Registering High School Students to Vote: Empowering, Engaging, and Pretty Darn Awesome
Over the past couple of years, Oregon has taken great strides to assure that its residents have easy access to voter registration. In 2016, Oregon implemented the Motor Voter Act, which automatically registers anyone who is eligible to vote when they visit the DMV to apply for, renew, or replace an Oregon drivers’ license, ID card, or permit. In 2018, Oregon began letting eligible residents pre-register to vote at 16 years old (they are automatically sent a ballot for the first election they are eligible to vote in once they turn 18).
I decided on a whim one day to stop by the elections office to pick up a few voter registration forms for my daughter and her friend. When I got home and told them about it, I was surprised at how excited they were to register.
They filled out the forms, asked me to take a photo, and they promptly announced it to their friends via Snapchat and Instagram (they told me that Facebook is for “old people,” so I dutifully posted it there for my friends to see).
In the 2016 presidential election, only 46% of people aged 18-29 voted!
With the political climate like it is now, students are more informed, engaged, and empowered, so this is a perfect time to register them to vote and to teach and encourage them to be active participants in our democracy.
Although I have never organized a voter registration drive before, I decided to explore what it would entail. I returned to the elections office and asked for 150 voter registration forms (I made sure to get some in Spanish and a few other languages). They were able to give me a box to collect completed forms in and a few posters too.
Many of my daughter’s friends don’t have their driver’s licenses yet and I find this to be true for a lot of kids growing up in the metro area, so, if they don’t go to the DMV, they have to register elsewhere. I couldn’t think of an easier place to get this done than at their very own high schools, so I emailed my daughters’ school, told them that I wanted to organize a voter registration drive.
In the reply email, several other people were copied - the principal, the leadership teacher, and a few of the students in the leadership class. They were very helpful and extremely excited to have this opportunity for their school. They suggested dates and times, a location for me to set up a table, they added the information to the school announcements, and agreed to put posters up around the school to help promote it.
I recruited some friends to help, read the FAQs on the county elections website to be sure I could answer questions, gathered some supplies, and off we went.
As were were setting up the table, I had no idea what to expect and I wondered if anyone would show up. I had already gotten the “this is SO embarrassing” complaint and eye roll from my teen, so I had no idea what the other kids would think about it.
The bell rang and, within seconds, our table was swarming with excited teenagers, all eager to register to vote. We stayed busy for the entire hour registering voters, answering questions, and engaging in some really great conversations.
We remained non-partisan at all times: Our goal was to register new voters, not to promote a particular political party, candidate, or issue.
We were there for a total of two hours (one hour per day for two consecutive days) and we registered 82 voters and sent home over 20 registration forms for students to fill out at home. Such a success and it was so easy! Imagine if we did this in every area school and other volunteers did it in their cities all around the country.
I was so inspired by this experience, I decided to write up a High School Voter Registration Drive Toolkit so that other volunteers could have this resource easily available. It was refreshing to see the enthusiasm and empowerment expressed by these students as they “adulted” and participated in their first act of civic engagement. I encourage you to grab a friend, contact your neighborhood high school, and register some voters.