Voter awareness comes to high schools ahead of fall elections

19 Sep
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To encourage civic participation and increase awareness of voter eligibility, the last two weeks of September are designated High School Voter Education Weeks in California. Required under California Education Code, the campaign stresses voter education and civic participation on campus as part of a long-term goal of creating lifelong voters and engaged citizens

Presently, just 53 percent of Californians ages 18–34 are registered to vote. Even then, only one in four of that demographic actually votes. And according to the Sacramento Bee, just 260 out of more than 1,300 high schools, or fewer than 20 percent, responded to state requests in 2016 for information about their plans for voter registration leading up to November elections.

“It is never too early to motivate our students to get involved.”

To boost those numbers, High School Voter Education Weeks aims to raise awareness of the importance of voting and to provide resources on election participation. As part of this goal, teachers are encouraged to help eligible students preregister or register to vote, and students designated as voter-outreach coordinators can lead registration drives and other school civics education activities. (In the classroom, California requires a semester-long course in economics and a semester-long course in government to graduate.)

“As we approach the upcoming November 6 statewide general election, it is important to ensure that our students are learning to become active and engaged participants in our democracy,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wrote in an August letter to school leaders. “It is never too early to motivate our students to get involved.”

Some school districts have already been proactive about doing so. In Brawley, Calif., for example, high school students hold mock elections on local issues, take part in an extracurricular civics club and attend local governance meetings as student journalists.

“I believe this narrows the opportunity gap and gets the students out of the shadows of society and into the mainstream,” Brawley High School teacher and program founder Jose Flores said.

State officials hope High School Voter Education Weeks prove similarly beneficial for students across the state and cultivate ongoing participation in the democratic process.

RESOURCES

Why Civic Learning is Critical, CSBA governance brief

Citizen Students: High school program highlights governance in action, California Schools magazine

Best Practices for voter outreach in high schools, shared by CA Counties (PDF)

Pre-Registration Flyer (PDF)

Student Poll Worker Flyer (PDF)

Online Voter Registration Flyer (PDF)

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