Grit, love, and sunscreen: An open letter to high school seniors
Dear Class of 2019,
Congratulations! You are almost done with high school.
I want to talk to you about something else that may well be the most important thing you do in your time in high school. I want to talk to you about voter registration. I want all of you to make sure that you and your friends will all be able to vote in 2020.
You know that US citizens can vote when they turn 18. What most schools don’t teach, however, is that almost everyone can register before age 18. More than a dozen states allow preregistration at age 16 or 17. Those who preregister can automatically vote when they turn 18. In other States, you can register as long as you will be 18 by the next election. What this means in practical terms is that most of your graduating class is eligible to register or preregister right now. Even more students at your school will be eligible before graduation.
Why do politicians ignore the concerns of young people? It is not that the concerns of young people are unimportant or because politicians don’t know what young people want. It is because young people have not organized at the same rates as older voters.
There are many ways in which the the youth vote can be suppressed. But the results are undeniable. In the 2018 Midterm Election, only 31% of young people actually voted. Most people are never even asked to register. In California, which offers easy-to-access online voter preregistration, still only 13% of 16- and 17-year-olds are preregistered to vote.
Since you have spent the better part of the last four years in high school, you already know what I am about to tell you: High schools could play a critical role in fixing this problem, but most schools have no budget, no training, and no planning for this role.
The infrastructure does not exist.
But you exist.
And if you believe it’s unfair or worse that the adults in your world haven’t made it easier for young people to participate in the political process, I cannot tell you you are wrong. What I can tell you is that looking to adults to solve the problem is not enough, and for many of you it is not even necessary.
You have a small window between now and graduation, and if you take advantage of it, you may well be surprised by how much progress you can make. Here are five things that you can do between now and graduation if you want young people to have more of a voice in 2020.
First, register to vote now.
Third, motivate and organize a training for your club to hold a voter registration drive before the end of the school year. At almost every school, students should be able to get at least 100 new registrations before now and the end of the year. With thousands of schools across the country, that’s hundreds of thousands of new registrations. We are holding trainings on March 2 (in Los Angeles) and March 3 (in Orange County) to help students learn how to do this work.
Fourth, identify someone in the class of 2020 to take over the club after you graduate. Remember, the infrastructure to do this does not exist yet in most places? You have to create it.
Fifth, keep track of everyone you helped register so you can make sure they vote in 2020. Your generation is connected through social media, and your networks can be a powerful force.
And if your school gets completely registered before the end of the school year, we have more ways you can help!
While all of this effort takes a dose of grit, love, and sunscreen, what it needs most is you.