Published on: Monday, August 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Takoma Park students win second prize in Student Cam contest

By Morgan Fecto

Any voter can bubble-in choices on Election Day without knowing much about policy or platform. Joanne Ha and Sarina Matson, however, are two voting-aged teenagers (at least, in Takoma Park) who do their research on political issues.

“We found that if people start voting at a younger age, then they’ll continue voting overall,” Matson said.

Ha added: “We also found that the effect of setting the national voting age at 18 is that a lot of kids go to college, and it’s really difficult to vote outside of your home state. Then later you move to a big city and start working, and you’re not invested.”

For C-SPAN’s annual “Student Cam” documentary contest for middle and high school students, these 16-year-olds from Montgomery Blair High School won second prize for their film “Lower the Vote, Raise America,” along with three others in their division.

For 2016 Student Cam entrants made short documentaries about issues they think the presidential candidates should discuss. While the other winners in their division addressed juvenile justice reform, congressional term limits and campaign finance laws, Ha and Matson sought a topic with a local angle.

“Takoma Park is the first city to lower it’s municipal voting age to 16, and the only one in Maryland other than Hyattsville. We thought that was really unique,” Ha said.

Ha and Matson’s film uses statistics, footage they found online, original interviews with activists and locals, including Councilmember Tim Male and Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, as well as broll of the city.

“We include a lot of background footage of downtown to highlight the closeness of the community and what kind of town Takoma Park is,” Ha said. “But we chose this topic to make people aware nationally, not just locally, since it was going to air on cable television.”

Along with 14 other films made by Blair students, Ha and Matson’s film helped earn $1,250 for Blair’s Communication Arts Program, according to a press release from CAP. Making a film for Student Cam is a requirement for tenth graders in the program, which teaches its students about the humanities, digital media and community engagement.

For Ha and Matson, lowering the voting age hits close to home in more ways than one. “There are a lot of adults, as young as 18 to as old as people get, who could also be considered not educated enough or not mature enough to vote, and yet they automatically have that privilege,” Ha said. “At 16 we’re at the age when some people already have jobs and pay taxes and are involved in politics, and these decisions that adults vote on also directly affect them.”

Matson added: “16-year-olds have also just taken AP Government, usually, and so we’re freshly alert about the political process.”

Making choices for themselves is important to Ha and Matson. When they looked for interview subjects, they found more choices than they expected.

“Usually the most difficult part about interviews, which is the most important part about documentaries, is [finding] people who are available,” Ha said. “But Tim Male and Kate Stewart put us in touch with all these people who were passionate about the topic. We had 20 to 30 minutes of interviews to go into a four to seven-minute documentary,” Ha said.

Although Ha and Matson didn’t hurt from a lack of interview subjects, they had to look harder than they expected for the right footage. “I learned the importance of b-roll,” Matson said, “which is the background footage. We had missed election season to start filming things, so we poked around online and found some footage there.”

In the next local election, Ha and Matson said they’ll step out from behind the camera and into the lines at the polls. To watch “Lower the Vote, Raise America,” and the other winning Student Cam films, go to

This article appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.