When you’re organizing a student voter registration drive, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea of registering every single student and collecting as many forms as possible. However, there’s something we must remember: Not all students and caretakers are eligible to vote.
You’ll need to plan for equity in advance of your registration day, so no student feels excluded or unsafe. Here are some tips for ensuring your school’s voter registration drive is equitable and inclusive.
1. Give students plenty of notice.
The thought of discussing voter registration in class may cause some students anxiety, particularly if they are undocumented, have been incarcerated or don’t have access to IDs. Let students know about the drive well in advance so that they can come to you with questions about their eligibility status if they choose.
Depending on your state, you’ll also want to let them know whether they’ll have to declare a party affiliation when they register. Discuss what it means to identify as a party member versus an independent, and encourage students to do individual research to determine what party they might align with.
2. Talk about the history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement in your state, district and city.
When you’re holding a voter registration drive for your students, provide them the context surrounding the ongoing struggle for voting rights in this country. No matter what subject you teach, you can introduce students to the facts about elections—and how voter suppression tactics continue to disenfranchise marginalized communities in our country. Discuss racial gerrymandering, and help students research roadblocks to voting in your state and district.
3. Include all, not some.
To engage students who aren’t yet old enough to register or preregister, you can have them pledge to register. If you’re helping students register online, be sure you have paper registration copies available on hand for those who don’t have cellphones with internet access. The National Voter Registration Form is available in several languages—have copies in your students’ home languages available to share.
You can also find other ways to include students. Encourage them to talk with their families and other community members about registering and about other ways they can engage in our diverse democracy.
4. Don’t make registration mandatory.
The simple truth is that not all students can register, and no student should feel singled out or targeted if they’re unable to do so. Plan ahead how you’ll include all students on registration day.
For example, instead of collecting registration forms individually, try putting a box near your classroom or office door. Tell students that if they add their registration form as they leave, you will submit it for them. Assure students that they aren’t required to register, and let them know you’re available if they have eligibility questions. At the end of the day, you can review the forms for missing information. This way, no student is pressured into disclosing information about eligibility.
We must remember that registering students is only the start of the voting conversation, not the end. Making your discussions about voter registration drives as inclusive and equitable as possible will show students that elections can open important discussions in which everyone can—and should—have a voice.
Malley is the editorial assistant for Teaching Tolerance.