Newly eligible Manhasset voters make their voices heard in budget vote

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Molly Graf, 18, picks up her ballot in the Manhasset high school gymnasium right before voting for the first time. (Photo by Teri West)

The first adjective Cara Kurkjian used to describe her voting experience Tuesday was “crazy.”

She had woken up on her 18th birthday feeling like the same person as the day before but standing at the voting booth in her high school gymnasium that afternoon put her new age into perspective.

Taking a deep breath while filling in the ballot, she thought “My say matters now,” the student later said.

Student member of the Manhasset Board of Education Cara Kurkjian on her 18th birthday after voting on the district budget. (Photo by Teri West)

That ballot was one only about 14,000 people were registered to fill out: one that asked Manhasset residents to make judgments on the school district’s budget, capital reserve fund designations and Board of Education candidates.

Perhaps Kurkjian has a unique perspective on the election. As the student member of the Board of Education, she has attended meetings throughout the school year where she has seen the ballot propositions take shape and had the chance to voice an opinion on behalf of students.

But she was not the only student filtering into the quiet gymnasium after school. Melina Sideratos voted for the first time, neighboring her mother. Patrick Weber, who had turned 18 the day after November’s primary election, also stopped by to vote for the first time.

In total, 56 voters in Manhasset’s election were 18 and 19, according to the district. Another 63 voters were in their 20s.

“I think it’s important that we get used to voting,” said Molly Graf, a first-time voter who has only been 18 for a month and a half. “When you have the opportunity to vote, vote. It’s our first chance to do so, might as well.”

The 18-year-old voters will move on from the Manhasset school district in about a month, but Weber says voting is a way of ensuring that the schools maintain good facilities for students still coming up.

Lumin Abdur-Rashid has been off at college for a couple of years but said she is sure to vote in this election every year.

“Women don’t get a vote back in the day, so it was important for me to vote,” she said. “I used to go to school here so for me it was important that the school gets what it needs. I’ve read the stuff in the paper about what the school’s going to do with the budget.”

Sideratos’ older sister also voted this year, submitting an absentee ballot because on Election Day she was in Australia studying abroad, her mother said.

The Manhasset schools encourage students to vote as often as they can and emphasize the value of civic engagement, Kurkjian said. The senior was able to send a message to her whole graduating class the day before the election encouraging them to vote because there is a group chat that every student is in, she said.

“It didn’t feel real when I woke up this morning and now I just voted, and I’m realizing that I have a lot more rights than I did like … 15 hours ago,” Kurkjian said. “That’s crazy. I think I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on my way home.”

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