First Person: A Line Is A Terrible Thing To Waste
I understand from growing up in Orange County that the earlier students get introduced to the democratic voting process, the more likely they are to fight their stereotypical OC apathy in the “OC Bubble” and actively participate in our electoral process.
I began to be interested in voter registration and engagement through Junior State of America, a nonpartisan youth-led organization that focuses on developing a diverse, cross-section of young leaders for a democratic society. Through my work with JSA, I developed relationships with other nonpartisan groups, including The Civics Center (which is focused on high school voter registration across the country) and WAVE (which is focused on OC).
Before I started the coalition, the pre-registration rate in Orange County was only 14% and the national voter turnout rate for young people was staggeringly low at 28% even though it increased dramatically since 2014, when the rate was only 21%! Clearly, something needs to be done about this trend. Do 70% of all young people in the OC really want the old people to make all of their decisions?
In California students can pre-register at 16 to vote at 18. So, to combat the issue of low voter turnout with young people, I decided to come up with a new model for voter registration in high schools, and it is working. We are focussing on voter registration during high school registration/orientation. This is a great time to do voter registration work because students are gathered together in significant numbers, and they are waiting around to buy books or register for classes. I realized we could use these gatherings and this down time for voter registration.
I contacted every public high school in Orange County about organizing drives while students wait in a slow, lengthy line to turn in their forms and get their class schedule. I got permission from a lot of high schools just by asking! I set up a table and organized volunteers pass out clipboards to students while they were waiting in line. It was super exciting to see so many students excited to start their journey of electoral participation!
In our first week of voter registration drives, we registered 835 students to vote! With many OC electoral races being very competitive, young people will now have more opportunity to make a difference and have their voice heard in our democracy! There are also many more schools on our calendar this summer for drives and I can’t wait to empower more high school students to vote.
Volunteers in communities across the country can replicate this effort. All they need is a little training, clip boards, pens, voter registration forms, stickers, candy, and sunscreen.
The organizing does not end once students are registered for their classes. I am hoping students will use their new awareness to lead voter registration drives at their schools throughout the year and especially during High School Voter Registration Week from Sept. 23-27!
I am planning a Kickoff Voting Social on September 7th in Irvine, California to train students how to lead voter registration drives at their high schools in a fun, energizing environment. The event is geared towards teens, so the event will be super engaging! We will have music, games, pizza, and more! Students from all Southern California counties are welcome because we want to make the greatest impact possible. We will have a student panel where some amazing students will share their experiences with voter registration and civic engagement. The student leaders will lead break-off groups to help individual schools plan a voter registration drive. Students will have the opportunity to become part of the coalition and take on leadership roles. We hope that all of the students will leave with a plan, feel supported, and be empowered to make a difference!
I have learned so much in this process and come across great people. Nothing would make me happier than for other students to take up the cause wherever they are.
Jeri Fromme is an incoming freshman at UCLA. She founded the Orange County Voter Empowerment Coalition (OCVEC) in 2019 to focus on high school voter participation in Orange County. OCVEC provides a platform for students to collaborate with one another. OVEC hopes to provide a model for organizing in other communities.