Two Palmer High School seniors beat out 3,000 other high school teams to win the StudentCam competition put on by the national political network CSPAN.
The competition aims to get students to think critically about the issues in the country by asking a simple question and having them respond in a documentary format.
“At that point, it’s the most complex project we’d made,” Gabriel Wright said.
Wright and his project partner, Christian Granados, estimate they researched for 10 hours, edited for 40 hours, and, possibly the most painstaking of all, sifted through 10 hours of CSPAN archives to create their documentary.
The question they were trying to answer: What does it mean to be American? Their answer: Voting rights.
“We wanted to find two sections of voting that were particularly discriminated against,” Wright said.
They quickly found that to paint a broad brush of voting as a whole would be too cumbersome to nail down in a five-minute video. After a bit of researching and family time, their topic began to present itself.
“Voting came about from a dinner conversation with my grandparents that really sparked the idea of bringing up the inequalities in the voting system we have today,” Granados said. “Two main topics that we focused on in our video were gerrymandering and Native American voting rights.”
Specifically, politically-motivated gerrymandering where districts to decide seats for the U.S House of Representatives, state Senates and state Houses of Representatives are drawn in a way that will reliably favor one party no matter the election cycle.
In their video, they say it takes districts and states where the population has a relatively even split, and leans further in one political direction that doesn’t represent the people living there.
“I think, being in 2019, it’s easy to think that voting is equal because we’ve reached this point where everything should be equal now,” Granados said. “But, the more you start to investigate, the quicker you realize that really isn’t true today.”
They found it was very true for the voting rights of Native Americans. With the help of Granados’ grandparents, who helped spark this idea for the project while talking about it over dinner, Granados and Wright highlight laws that have been in the statutes for a number of years that hinder the ability of Native Americans to vote. They discovered that oftentimes, the laws date back decades.
Given what they found around what stops people from voting, it was perplexing to discover that some people choose not to.
By speaking to local state representatives, they hoped to explain the value of voting.
Wright said it’s important even if it feels like one vote gets lost in thousands. He hopes their project inspires more people to vote and vote more often.
“No matter how hopeless it might seem, your vote always does count,” Wright said.
The video will air Thursday at 4:50 a.m. on CSPAN. The video can also be found here.