What I Learned About Holding An Effective Registration Drive in a CO High School (Hint: there are special rules!)
Last semester, I volunteered to help with a local high school voter registration drive. I want to share my story and what I learned in the hopes that many other people will get involved in this effort this semester.
I’m a corporate lawyer, and I work from home in Colorado, trying to raise my children to be active members of our community, our country, and the world. In my own childhood, my family fled a formerly-democratic-turned-dictatorial regime which violently stifled political dissent and disenfranchised great swaths of the population. Having lived through this experience, I’m grateful we found refuge in the U.S., and I’m distressed by the dismal voting rates we see here, particularly amongst 18- to 25-year-olds. It’s personally frightening to think our democracy can be easily hijacked by powerful individuals who will count on our collective disengagement to gerrymander electoral maps, curtail voting rights of minorities, and take other actions that frustrate the right of citizens to vote.
The high school voter registration drive I worked on presented an opportunity to model activism for my kids and to engage with other teens about these important issues. So it was that on a recent Thursday morning, I found myself at Prairie View High School in Henderson, Colorado.
I’m not used to being around large groups of teenagers I don’t know, so I was nervous, but also energized. I arrived prepared with guidance from The Civics Center and lots of chocolate. Our drive that day made me want to go back; we registered quite a few kids and even some teachers and staff. The experience reassured me that I (so pretty much anyone!) could do this. It provided a fantastic learning experience, and now that I’ve put together one drive, I feel confident about organizing future drives, which I plan to hold before the next election cycle.
A few things I learned from this experience:
Plan: Start early, ideally at the beginning of the school year or even over the summer. Colorado has training, testing and certification requirements for holding Voter Registration Drives and even special registration forms (see this information as an example).
Get the Word Out: Get teachers, administration and key students involved in letting the school population know of the registration event. Use morning announcements, school videos or newsletters, posters throughout the school, and reminders in the student’s emails or electronic platforms (Infinite Campus, Schoology, etc.). A few teachers asked if they could copy the registration forms and distribute them in their classrooms. Be sure to check if state law allows this; if so, great. If not, you can plan ahead and bring extra forms to get Social Studies teachers involved to broaden your audience.
Target the Message: Colorado and other states allow preregistration at 16, which is something most students didn’t know. Signs like: “Hey, are you 16 or over?” could work better than a “Register Here” sign, which is likely to be ignored by everyone under 18.
Be Visible: Consider table/booth placement, recruit students to direct traffic to the registration area, and think about placing posters in high-traffic areas and on blank walls where they will stand out.
Treats: Offer snacks if your budget allows. A candy bowl is a great way to encourage students to come by to talk about registration/preregistration.
Be Prepared: I provided blue and black pens, envelopes, and stamps for those that needed them. For states that allow online voter registration, it’s great to have tablets or laptops, as well as hard copy forms. In Colorado, some counties allow forms to be submitted by email, so a scanner would have been helpful. It is great to have the students turn in their completed forms to the drive organizers if state law allows it. This way they don’t forget to drop the form in the mail. There may be deadlines for getting the completed forms to the responsible official, so make sure to check the timing requirement. Finally, if the school is a magnet school or straddles different counties, be sure to have the contact information for the different counties’ clerks and recorder offices.
Have Fun: Some teenagers may appear not to care, but once I engaged with them personally, their cool indifference melted off (as did my uncertainty about talking to a bunch of strangers). I had a blast talking to them about the issues involved in voting and how their votes will have an impact, from the local school district level all the way to national elections.