Every Sunday, the Wahal family gathers around the table to read and discuss the Sunday editions of the “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal.”
“We always like to talk about different conversations in politics and international affairs,” said 19-year-old Scottsdale native Anya Wahal.
It’s a family tradition she and her younger brother Karsen Wahal, 17, have followed since they learned to read.
“Even before we learned how to read, our parents would read us newspapers,” Anya said.
And while Anya is now far from home as a sophomore at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., she and Karsen are taking their passion for politics and teaming up to help educate Arizona voters this election season.
They helped found The Polling Place, a nonpartisan voter initiative that aims to provide accurate, unbiased information on all candidates in all races throughout Arizona.
The Polling Place launched a week ago, thanks to some help they got from friends at BASIS Scottsdale as well as Georgetown, George Washington and Harvard universities.
“Especially given the importance of voting in this day and age and young people, we realize that politics is playing an increasingly important role in our lives,” said Karsen, a senior at BASIS Scottsdale. “We thought it was important to make this website to make voting accessible to everybody.”
Arizona has had a history of low voter turnout.
“Casting an informed, data-driven vote in today’s political climate has become nearly impossible. Candidate information is inaccessible, disorganized and sometimes even absent. This lack of accessibility drives the shockingly low voter turnout in our country and our state,” The Polling Place states on its website.
The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commissions said in 2018 that one obstacle for potential voters has been the “absence of a single place where they can learn how Arizona’s complicated state and local government operates and what issues each office addresses.”
“While many potential voters care deeply about local and state issues, this obstacle has limited voter turnout,” it said.
The Polling Place’s website provides a comprehensive database of background, platform and voting record for each candidate at all government levels.
“I realized that although Karsen and I are very privileged to be able to spend time researching all these candidates, a lot of people don’t have the time or the resources to be researching these candidates,” Anya said.
“So, we really wanted to bridge that gap of accessibility and make it so that all people can be informed easily and accessibly.”
According to Karsen, one of the biggest challenges to creating the Polling Place was the sheer amount of research it involved.
The team collected data from candidates’ websites and news stories, as well as from social media, including Facebook and LinkedIn.
“We’re a lot more efficient now, and we’ve expanded to a few more people that we trust to get the information down correctly,” Karsen said.
The Polling Place has reached voters of all ages.
It caught the attention of Joan Greene, the Democratic candidate for Congress in District 5, who referred voters to the site, say it had “great information and they will be updating in the coming days.”
While Anya and Karsen said they would like to expand The Polling Place to other states, they’re dedicated to perfecting The Polling Place for Arizona.
“We’re from Arizona, so this is very close to our hearts,” Anya said. “But we would definitely be interested in reaching out to other states.”
In the meantime, both Anya and Karsen hope the Polling Place will inspire Arizonans, especially young people, to vote.
“Even though I can’t vote, I think voting has an impact on me and everybody that I care about,” Karsen said. “Politics affects every single part of my life. It affects whether I can go to school and see my friends during a pandemic. It affects the future in terms of my education, going to college, tuition.”
He continued: “I have great parents and education, but there are so many others who don’t have access to the same opportunities that I have. And politics is one of the best ways to ensure that everybody gets equal opportunities across the board.”
Anya added that young people play an important role in politics.
“I’m of the opinion that if you are complaining about the political landscape and things that happen to your life, then you need to vote,” she said. “I think for young people, in particular, we’ve seen this great movement and activism around different ideas.
“I think that activism is important, but I think it’s important for the activism to be backed up by a vote.”