The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual Constitution Day civics survey, conducted last month, resulted in some surprising numbers. While only 26 percent of respondents could name all three branches of government, 33 percent couldn’t name any at all. According to reporting from The74, nationwide only 17 states include civics in accountability frameworks.
California, too, has a sizeable problem when it comes to voter registration and political engagement. Young adults have the lowest voter registration and participation rates of any age group in California. Only 8.2 percent of eligible voters age 18–24 voted in California’s 2014 state election. In the 2016 presidential election, just 53 percent of Californians between the ages of 18–34 were registered to vote, with an estimated one in four of those registered voters making it to the polls.
As designated in the California Education Code, September 18—29, 2017 are official High School Voter Education Weeks. To celebrate the weeks, school districts across the state are providing students with programming that encourages voter registration and civic participation. Whether it be providing extra credit for poll working or earning a spot in the “Voter Hall of Fame,” there are a variety of creative ways to spark students’ interest in civic engagement. For instance, Golden Bell Award Winner Brawley Union HSD holds voter registration events through their Comprehensive Common Core Civics Program.
County Elections Offices and the Secretary of State’s Office have shared some of the best practices that districts should incorporate into how they are celebrating the weeks. Here are a few of those practices highlighted:
Pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds
It’s a little-known fact that California citizens can pre-register to vote starting at age 16. School districts can promote pre-registration through email and texting campaigns, adding a link to the school website homepage, handing out flyers or hosting pre-registration drive events.
“Along with backpacks, new clothes, and school supplies, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds should add pre-registration to their back to school checklists,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a news release from the California Department of Education. “Since we launched in March, nearly 20,000 students have pre-registered to vote online at registertovote.ca.gov. As the school year begins, I encourage school districts statewide to use our online toolkit to inform students about the importance of pre-registration and civic engagement.”
Padilla’s office has published a comprehensive pre-registration toolkit that includes a video PSA, sample social media posts and more.
Conduct an election forum or mock election
Engaging students in a mock election can serve as a “practice run” for the first election in which they are eligible to vote. This can be a one-day event at a school site with voting equipment, student volunteer poll workers, and even local elected officials giving speeches or holding a forum. Whatever the event may look like, make sure there are pre-registration and voter registration materials on hand for eligible students.
Use student body elections to spread awareness
Another way to demonstrate strong civic participation is already built into the high school setting: student body elections. Student participation in a student body election is a precursor to voting at the local, state and national elections. Encourage students to vote by setting up a polling place, using student poll worker volunteers and giving out “I Voted” stickers. This is also an excellent venue for providing pre-registration and registration materials to eligible students.
Why Civic Learning is Critical — CSBA Governance Brief
High School Voter Education Weeks — California Secretary of State
Pre-Registration Toolkit — California Secretary of State
Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California: A Blueprint for Action — The California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning