Helping students register and preregister to vote is one of the most powerful ways that you can show them you believe that their voices—and their experiences—matter. These best practices can help you set clear goals, build the support you need and start registering future voters.
1. Start in the Spring
Since 2020 is an election year, you’ll definitely want to plan to register students in the fall. But don’t wait until the fall to get started! Holding a student registration event during the spring semester has several benefits. You can:
Practice planning and launching your drive.
You can plan a spring registration drive on your timeline, without worrying about state deadlines.
Register graduating seniors.
While graduates moving to a different district will need to register at their new addresses, a spring registration drive will give all eligible seniors an opportunity to practice registering to vote.
Register more students than at a fall drive.
Volunteers with the League of Women Voters found that school-based events held in the late winter or early spring tend to register three times more future voters than those held in the fall.
2. Build a Team
Even one person can make an impact by starting a school voter registration drive. But to ensure your effort is as effective as possible, you’ll need the right volunteers and allies. Here’s who you’ll want on your side:
You’ll need someone who can encourage teachers to invite you into classrooms to register students. It’s also helpful to have administrative support for promoting the drive in general.
Many states have regulations in place that cover who can register voters and how. If there’s no one at your school who’s led a registration drive before, reach out to state or county officials or a local nonprofit for support. The League of Women Voters’ High School Voter Registration Project is a great place to start.
Having students on your team is key to success. They’re the ones who will be most effective at building enthusiasm, anticipating questions and boosting participation from their classmates. Consider partnering with a student club, athletic team or student council. And remember that this can be a good way to include students who may be ineligible to register.
3. Do Your Homework
Learn your state’s laws.
Do you know if students can preregister in your state? What the voter ID laws are? How to access registration materials? Because laws vary, you’ll need to do some state-specific research. Our additional resources can help you get started.
Check with local officials.
Once you’ve reviewed the guide, you should also contact local elections officials. The League of Women Voters recommends giving local officials advance notice that they can expect a number of registrations; asking whether they have any new resources or guides you can share with students; and ensuring that your registration drive plan meets their requirements.
Calling your local election office?HeadCount offers this helpful list of questions to ask:
Are any special trainings, requirements, age limitations or paperwork needed for doing a voter registration drive?
What’s the best way to get voter registration forms?
Where should you send forms once they’re completed?
What’s the deadline for submitting them?
The good news is that volunteers with the League of Women Voters overwhelmingly found these conversations helpful—outreach interactions were rated, on average, 4.95 out of 5.
4. Plan and Publicize
Decide which form you’ll use.
Will you guide students through online registration or give them paper forms? HeadCount offers a helpful breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of paper and digital registration that might be useful. Both have benefits and drawbacks, but we recommend paper. Not all students have access to mobile devices, and paper guides allow you to ensure that registrations are complete and submitted on time. Of course, you’ll need to have a sufficient number of paper forms on hand, and a plan for submitting them.
Give students notice.
Let students know in advance when you’ll be helping them register. You might visit classes or send a schoolwide email. Some states require information like Social Security or drivers’ license numbers, so be sure to let students know what information they’ll need to have and when.
Plan for equity.
Age isn’t the only reason students might not be eligible to register. Planning in advance to ensure that no students feel singled out during your registration event is crucial.
One way to ensure no students feel singled out is to make it clear that registration is not required. Let students know they’ll all have the opportunity to complete the registration form, and that they can leave their forms in a box by the door (or similar collection method) if they’d like you to submit them.
They should feel free to take their forms with them if they need to find extra information or if they’re unsure they want to register to vote. The goal is to ensure that no students are pressured into registering if they’re ineligible and that the opt-out process is discreet and easy. Read more on planning for equity here.
5. Think Like a Teacher
Go to classrooms.
According to research from the League of Women Voters, registration drives consisting of individual classroom visits were up to twice as effective as large-group assemblies. You wouldn’t want to teach a class of 500 students at once; why would you want to register them that way?
Plan a lesson.
The California secretary of state suggests introducing registration with “Elections 101”: reviewing eligibility requirements, the registration process and what to expect in the voting booth. And research shows that students are more likely to vote if they understand how elections affect their lives. Taking 10 minutes to discuss the impact of elections and how they’re run can make a big difference in the number of students who register and vote.
The best practice, of course, is to register students as a part of a civics education curriculum. But even if your school hasn’t committed to teaching about voting, you can take a few minutes before registering to involve students in a conversation about why their votes matter.
Model the activity.
If possible, complete the form once for students and then circulate around the class answering questions as students register.
Check for understanding.
The League of Women Voters recommends double-checking a few key points before you submit registration forms:
- age verification
- citizenship verification
- any identifying numbers
- signature and date
These five recommendations are streamlined suggestions drawn from a number of more comprehensive guides for registering voters in schools. These guides are packed with valuable resources, and we encourage you to check them out.