The well-rounded education that all students deserve includes a deep appreciation for citizenship and its core right and responsibility: voting.
With National Voter Registration Day just around the corner (Tuesday, September 25), the NEA is encouraging members to advocate for—and hold—voter registration drives in public high schools.
We are getting voter registration tools out to members through the NEA EdJustice League, our new avenue for building power and making our voices heard in communities across the nation. (By the way: The NEA Edjustice League offers a variety of ways you can connect with other activists in your area on lots of issues. Click here for more info.)
Through the NEA EdJustice League site, you can take these important steps:
- Check the status of your voter registration, get the voter deadlines in your state, and find your polling place.
- Create your own “super-social network” by sharing links and colorful graphics with your friends and family on social media and asking everyone in your network to share through their networks.
- Access a how-to guide with quick tips for setting up a voter registration drive.
Students are the future of our democracy and their participation as voters is critical. With our votes, we can advocate for the much-needed resources and support all students and schools need, change policies that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, and take action on other issues that affect public education and communities. And we can also replace the politicians who don’t support education with the many educators who are running for office!
Educators definitely have a role in encouraging young people to vote, but young people themselves are leading this movement. When David Hogg, one of the activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke at the NEA Representative Assembly this summer, he made an impassioned plea for engagement—and to really get engaged, you have to vote. Check out this link to voter registration on the Vote for Our Lives page.
David and many other students are doing tremendous work to get across the importance of voting. They’re standing on a tremendous legacy of student activism on voter education. Let’s not forget that it was college students who traveled throughout Mississippi in 1964 during Freedom Summer to register African-Americans who were subjected to discriminatory practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests.
A year later, activists led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest discrimination and win voting rights for African Americans. All of these acts paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Teaching Tolerance has a wealth of free resources on this historic time, including the powerful documentary “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot,” a companion teaching guide, and other information.
But while young people have often been at the forefront of voter registration campaigns, you might not know it based on their voting patterns. Millennials are the second-largest voting bloc in the electorate, according to the Voter Participation Center, right behind Baby Boomers. Yet, nearly 40 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 were not registered to vote in 2016, and almost 12 percent of those who were registered did not show up on Election Day.
The center places millennials in a huge voting group it calls the Rising American Electorate, which also includes people of color and single women.
Almost 133 million people make up this triumvirate, and they are the majority—59 percent—of the “voting-eligible” population. More like the silent majority, however, because so many are either registered voters who don’t vote, or not registered at all.
Keep in mind that in recent years, many states have passed laws that actually make it harder for us to vote. Those laws helped to depress voter turnout in 2014 and 2016. Let’s not give any assistance to those folks who want to keep our mouths shut, and our votes uncast.
Like the saying goes: Not voting actually is voting. It’s voting to give away your voice and your power.
Holding voter registration drives at high schools means expanding the ranks of eligible voters and improving the prospects for every community. None of us can be bystanders to democracy; the future depends on our being active participants in it.
If you hold a voter registration drive—or even take your own 18-year-old to register—I’d love to know about it! Share photos on your favorite social media channels using #vote, #edjustice, and #NationalVoterRegistrationDay.