League registers youths to vote, early
“Are you trying to get registered to vote?” Ruth Dixon asks a student venturing shyly toward the League of Women Voters of Alameda’s table in the quad at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School at the end of a noisy lunchtime rush. When the 17-year-old student nods, Dixon whisks her into a chair and hands her a pen and a voter registration form.
With Election Day fast approaching – and the October 22 voter registration deadline drawing near – League leaders are making a last-minute push to ensure that California’s youngest voters may cast their ballot in the upcoming election. They’re hoping that their efforts to capture young voters early will both boost the youth vote for this election and help establish voting habits that last a lifetime.
Last spring the League’s Anne Spanier and now-City Council candidate Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft organized voters drives at Alameda’s high schools, registering 17-year-old students under a state law that allows the youths to register so that they’re ready to vote when they turn 18. In addition to the registration efforts, they worked with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to offer presentations at several of the schools that were aimed at educating young voters about the process and about gathering information on the ballot box decisions they’ll be facing.
“We did much more than register them to vote. We showed them how to be an informed voter and how to be knowledgeable about how to manage their voting status,” Spanier said of the spring presentations.
So far, the League has registered more than 200 young people to vote, Spanier said, including 35 to 40 at St. Joe’s. The League registered another 120 at Encinal High School and additional students at the Alameda Science and Technology Institute, Island High School and Alameda Community Learning Center.
“SJND is proud to work with the League of Women Voters in their goal to promote civic responsibility among young people in Alameda,” St. Joe’s principal, Simon Chiu, said. “Our school's mission to ‘develop confident, open minded and generous leaders’ is well served by the League's work to register young voters.”
California is one of a dozen states that allow youths to register to vote before they turn 18, according to Project Vote; most other states allow preregistration only for youths who will be 18 by the time the next general election is held.
About a third of eligible California voters weren’t registered to vote when California’s preregistration law was being considered, in 2009; that number jumped to 45 percent for eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24. Before the law passed, California ranked 36th of 50 states for turnout among youth voters, according to an analysis prepared in advance of a vote on the bill.
“Research shows that people who get involved in the political process at a young age are much more likely to become lifelong voters, so facilitating participation by younger voters can have positive long term effects on overall voter participation,” the analysis said.
A study of two of the nation’s earliest preregistration programs, in Florida and Hawaii, found that youths were more likely to vote in presidential election years if they registered early. During the 2008 presidential election, which garnered the nation’s highest voter turnout since 1964, some 34 percent of youths who registered to vote at 17 cast ballots – a higher percentage than their peers who waited until they were 18 to register.
The study, authored by George Mason University Assistant Professor Michael P. McDonald, said preregistration programs are most successful when conducted face-to-face and recommended they be coordinated with school administrators or incorporated into civics classes.
Spanier said the schools the League worked with offered their computer labs, which allowed League and Registrar of Voters reps to show students how to register and to change their registration when they move, how to find their polling places and look up information to help guide the decisions they are being asked to make.
“Simply registering the students to vote isn’t always adequate,” Spanier said. “But catching the students when they’re 17 and still in high school, and giving them at least a 30-minute intro into what this is all about, I think, makes an impression.”