Harnessing student power to run an in-school voter registration drive can turn a civics unit into a multifaceted educational experience. National nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters and Project Vote and local organizations committed to getting out the vote have excellent resources to help you plan and run a successful drive. These organizations may even jump at the chance to assist with support.
In this toolkit, you will find a list of suggestions for optimizing the effectiveness and learning opportunities of a student-led, in-school voter registration drive.
- How can educators inspire young people to vote?
- What role can schools play in voter registration?
- Late winter or early spring is the best time to hold a high school voter registration drive. If you wait until the fall, your event may get lost in the back-to-school busyness or it may miss registration deadlines.
- A spring drive is ideal. It has the added advantage of catching more graduating seniors who have turned 18.
- Planning and coordinating an effective voter registration drive may take two to three months.
- Students wanting to serve as registrars may be required to register or take part in a training program. Check local laws and regulations related to voter registration and voting.
- Think ahead to curricular connections teachers can make before, during and after the drive.
Empower your students.
- Students can research and create presentations about local and state laws related to voter registration and elections. Other research projects might include the history of suffrage in the United States and the sociology of why young people vote—and why they don’t.
- Students can take the lead in the planning, promoting and programming of the drive itself. Let them make mistakes and help them recover from them.
- Organizing a voter registration drive offers a good opportunity to flip the classroom, turn students loose on service-learning projects, involve community members and offer lots of extra credit.
- Students can connect the drive to issues they care about. Once they buy into the notion that the youth vote matters and that their votes can make their community better, they will be motivated to participate.
Communicate with administrators and families.
- Meet with school decision-makers to discuss plans for the drive. If the political climate in your community is conflict-ridden, voter education and even voter registration drives could prove contentious. Administrative support can help you avoid or navigate tricky situations.
- Share your plans and enthusiasm with families and community members. Invite their participation. Emphasize the non-partisan nature of the registration drive and help them to see it as a patriotic, American tradition.
Model respectful partisanship.
- Set a civil tone. At its best, politics can be spirited without becoming mean-spirited. You and your teaching team can set a civil tone by facilitating fair discussions and debates. Disagreements are part and parcel of the political process, but make it clear that insults and personal attacks won’t be tolerated.
- Model appropriate behavior. Engage the younger students in your school with ongoing opportunities where all students can express their political minds. Debates, assemblies, town halls and online forums are excellent opportunities for young people to participate in civil discourse.
Connect—in school and out.
- Invite community members into your classroom to share their stories of why they vote.
- Invite election officials to explain the nuts and bolts of the elections themselves.
- Team up with student and community groups to promote your voter registration drive.
- Reach out to national, state and local nonpartisan organizations committed to voting rights. Here are a few examples:
- The League of Women Voters offers detailed information about election laws for every state, a school voter registration guide and more.
- Rock the Vote has been turning out young voters since 1990 and offers state-by-state information on elections, voter registration and action-based steps youth can take.
- Project Vote supports voting rights in historically underrepresented communities and offers research and publications on election and voting issues.
Reach out to media.
- Media in your community may be hungry for feel-good stories about civic-minded teens. A teen-managed voter registration drive can be good press for your students and your school.
- School-based media sources help to generate involvement across the school community. Leverage in-school communications like announcements, the school newspaper and the school website.
- Challenge another school to a friendly competition to see which one can register the most young voters.
- Celebrate the drive’s success by broadcasting the number of voters registered, in school and out.
- Make the event fun! Have raffles and door prizes. Invite a local radio station or DJ to play music.