Student Leaders: Recruit High School Voters Yourselves

A bill that could have added lots of high school voters to the rolls in Maryland before the next presidential election died in committee last spring. 

If passed, it would have gone into effect on October 1, 2020, just a month or so before the presidential election. 

Very disappointing, but not unexpected, for those of us who have been working, since the Parkland shooting, with student leaders and their faculty advisors across the state to encourage more students to register and vote. 

Students already sign up to vote in Maryland high schools. County Boards of Elections and the League of Women Voters come into the schools once or twice a year, often set up a table, usually outside the cafeteria, and wait for students to register. 

Meanwhile, Maryland election law allows just about any 16-year-old to register voters. 

The high school voter bill would have helped students do that. It required a school employee, such as a student government advisor to: 

  • Distribute voter registration forms, most likely through student leaders, who could help their friends and fellow students fill them out, 

  • Make sure the forms are completed correctly, and then 

  • Collect the completed forms and send them to the county Boards of Elections. 

I can’t imagine that the League and election boards wouldn’t want that kind of help from the students themselves. Everyone knows that friend-get-a-friend gets more voter sign-ups than any other way. 

Besides, it empowers students to become responsible citizens. 

“We did weeklong drives last year that registered hundreds of students,” according to Nick Asante, a Montgomery County student leader who testified in Annapolis. 

“We heard from schools across the country that our drives sparked a sense of duty in students and reinforced the idea that any of us can make a difference. 

“Working with students to vote -- and voting itself -- puts all of us on the path to future civic engagement, which our country requires if we are to remain a democracy,” Nick said. 

Of course, without the mandate to school administrators, my friends and I will continue helping student leaders conduct registration drives in Maryland’s high schools -- doing whatever we can to help the League and election boards -- and go on to conduct GOTV efforts once students have registered. 

But it would have been easier if the schools themselves were mandated to help out. 

Nick and other student leaders first brought the legislation to Montgomery County Delegate Ariana Kelly, who introduced it to the Maryland House at the end of January. It passed the House with a nearly two-thirds majority on March 14. 

But eight days later it received an “Unfavorable Report” from the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. That killed the legislation. A representative from the office of state Senator Jeff Waldstreicher, who brought the legislation to the Senate, said the committee gave no reason for letting it die. 

Hopefully, Kelly will introduce the bill when the legislature goes back into session in January. And the student leaders who brought it to her will testify again. But in the round of horse trading that defines Annapolis and most state capitals, they probably lack the leverage to get it passed. Too bad. 

Nick and his friends are ready to do the work. Wouldn’t it be great if the “adults” would listen to him? 

David Ward is the Director of High School Programs at Maryland Votes Together.

Opinions expressed are those of our guest bloggers.

David Ward