Students Take the Lead: Sparking Peer to Peer Voter Registration in High Schools
California allows eligible 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. State law requires high schools to identify a person responsible for distributing voter registration cards. Yet most high schools do not have the resources or training to implement these laws. The Civics Center has launched a pilot project to provide resources to empower students and school communities to take ownership of their future and take advantage of these laws. We propose to expand this work throughout LA County.
Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.
Laura W. Brill, the founder of The Civics Center is a lawyer and former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She describes the founding of The Civics Center and its goals below.
The 2016 election highlighted many challenges to democracy. These include low rates of voter turnout and civic engagement, especially among young people. In the 2014 midterms, fewer than 10% Californians ages 18-24 voted. Only 50% of people ages 18-29 voted in the 2016 Presidential election.
We often hear that young people don’t register and vote because they are apathetic. But young people care deeply, not just about their social media status, but also about climate change, education, college affordability, jobs, health care, and racial, gender and LGBT equality.
As a lawyer and a parent, I began to ask, what if we as community leaders have failed to make voting accessible to young people? What if they’re just waiting to be asked?
With an incredible group of volunteers and supporters, I started The Civics Center to
provide students, teachers, and administrators simple resources and basic training, to participate in civic life by leading voter registration drives. It turns out all we had to do was ask. And this is what we heard:
“I received and read your email last April…. I used the information at my school to instill the voting process, purpose, and passion voting promotes in our country. My deepest appreciation on your email and how it impacted my role as a principal and citizen to the students at my school.” - Principal
“Thank you for this…we’ve been struggling to get this going….” - Teacher
“I always distribute voter registration cards to my students but I haven't received any this year. Do you know who I need to contact?” - Teacher
"Thank you for facilitating youth civic engagement. We take so much inspiration from your voting initiatives!” - Student Club Leader
“Young people are not apathetic and self-centered. We’re the ones leading the marches.” - Student
“My friend invited me and I think it’s important because voting is our future.” - Student
"I’m interested in learning how to get people registered to vote…[and] in trying something new for a change.” - Student
Which of the CONNECT metrics will your submission impact?
Government responsiveness to residents’ needs
Rates of volunteerism
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
County of Los Angeles
How will your project make LA the best place to CONNECT?
High schools can provide the ideal educational and organizing framework through which to promote a culture of voting among young people. School clubs, which can continue from year to year, support peer-led efforts, helping teenagers develop leadership abilities and promoting social bonds while working toward common goals of voter registration and civic participation.
The Civics Center (TCC) uses many methods of outreach to contact and engage school communities. These include email messages to teachers and other educators, social media, a newsletter, and website. With additional funding, TCC will reach additional schools, create a model of effective peer-to-peer engagement that can be expanded throughout the County, and promote policies to support youth voter registration. Through in-person and online training workshops, TCC also will identify and train new student leaders to organize registration drives in their respective schools. TCC will provide online resources and a kit we call DEMOCRACY IN A BOX that delivers resources necessary to hold a voter registration drive and an incentive and recognition program to acknowledge and reward schools and students who reach registration goals.
All high school students (who can participate in voter registration drives regardless of voting eligibility), and students eligible to preregister or register to vote. Our goal is to distribute DEMOCRACY IN A BOX kits to 250 L.A. County high schools, each of which will pledge to register or preregister at least 100 students. The program has the capacity for substantial impact beyond the immediate population served, including influencing families and communities.
July-Sept. 2019: Conduct outreach and identify and train student and community volunteers to promote high school voter registration drives in fall 2019. Finalize DEMOCRACY IN A BOX kits and refine system for schools to register with TCC and provide feedback. Support efforts with social media.
Oct. 2019-Jan. 2020: Refine and expand program to focus schools on registering students before the March 2020 primary election. Assist schools with get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Feb.-June 2020: Promote the concept that every graduate should be a voter. By June of every year, schools should have encouraged eligible students to register multiple times in multiple ways. Train additional students and faculty to hold voter registration drives in fall 2020. Publish information about TCC’s learning.
TCC will make LA the best place to CONNECT by sparking high school students to create social structures to increase rates of VOLUNTEERISM in the interest of improving VOTER PARTICIPATION while creating a strong civic culture steeped in a tradition of service and citizen responsibility. By increasing preregistration rates in LA County, TCC will help improve youth turnout, and ultimately make GOVERNMENT MORE RESPONSIVE. See item 12 for details on how we measure impact.
In what stage of innovation is this project?
Pilot project (testing a new idea on a small scale to prove feasibility)
Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.
We define success for our project as creating the infrastructure to promote youth voter registration and preregistration. We provide the resources and motivation and connections for schools, students and groups to successfully run registration drives. We will measure the following outcomes:
Number of student leaders recruited.
Number of adult volunteers recruited.
Number of schools engaged in the project.
Number of high school clubs registered on the Civics Center website.
Number of high school drives registered on the Civics Center website.
Number of schools that have a designated educator responsible for voter registration.
Number of DEMOCRACY IN A BOX kits distributed.
Number of preregistered voters in LA County, including reaching our stated goal of 20% high school age voter registrations in LA County by November 2020.
Results of an impact/satisfaction survey distributed to schools and clubs.