This spring, approximately 40 volunteer League of Women Voters teams in 14 states participated in our 2014 High School and Community College Voter Registration Project. Since 2010, the League’s High School Voter Registration Project has empowered League volunteers in dozens of communities to encourage young Americans to participate in our political process by holding voter registration drives at local high schools, community colleges and vocational schools. The importance of the project is supported by new data showing that places of education are a prime location to register young people to vote. The proof is in the numbers: already, our preliminary results show that this year’s project helped thousands of young people register to vote for the first time.
Here are six major takeaways that have us excited about the phenomenal efforts of our volunteers and their successes in registering new voters.
1. Through good planning and elbow grease, League volunteers reached out to 240 local high schools, community colleges and technical schools. As they have in past years of this project, teachers and administrators responded in droves. As one League leader reported from Kansas, “students [started] signing up [to register]…as soon as they saw us setting up!” And in Manatee County, Florida, South Bend, Indiana and Berrien/Cass County, Michigan, League volunteers have already been invited back to register students next year!
2. Young people engaged with this program and made it their own. From the winning student video produced in conjunction with the local voter registration project in Polk County, Florida, to the young project coordinator who spearheaded the St. Paul League’s successful effort of registering 377 young people, peer-to-peer conversations about voting are proving critical once again in 2014. Asking a friend to register and vote remains the #1 thing we can all do to help make our electorate more inclusive.
3. Every single participating League focused on reaching the potential young voters least likely to have encountered voter registration opportunities in the past – including those living in communities of color, alternative high school students, technical/ vocational schools students, nighttime school program enrollees and other underrepresented groups. According to our friends at CIRCLE, these are the young people who tend to be the most often left behind in our electorate, as well as those most likely to be affected by voter suppression efforts. League volunteers prioritized these groups and knew how to best reach them.
4. League volunteers succeeded because they have earned and maintained close bonds with local elections officials – even as they push those officials to make sure our elections are safe, fair and accessible to all voters. In the majority of cases, participating Leagues worked closely with local officials on at least one aspect of their youth outreach programs, elections officials provided “I’m voting” stickers, sample ballots and demonstration voting machines, and much more to help Leagues succeed. Strong local connections were also often a key to helping Leagues tap into new schools and communities.
5. Leagues engaged partners in new and exciting ways, all with the goal of helping make sure as many eligible young voters as possible had the opportunity to register and vote. Many League experts involved student groups or other partners in the process and provided training so that the volunteers would be well-prepared to register voters this year and in the future.
6. This project is just the beginning of what will be a big year for voter registration nationwide. Over 150 Leagues have already signed up to participate in National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, September 23, and hundreds more will be out engaging voters at community fairs, bus stops, ballgames and workplaces this fall.
If you need to update your voter registration or help someone in your life register for the first time, head over to www.VOTE411.org to get started. And if you’re interested in engaging young voters in your community, your local League would love to hear from you! You’re also welcome to download our handy High School Voter Registration training manual. With your help, we’re Making Democracy Work® by making sure our youngest voters have a voice on the issues that are most important to them.