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Registering the Future: Youth Voting on the Horizon

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Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.

Featured Stories of the Week:

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Meadow Bridge High School Recognized For Voter Registration – WVNS-TV

Rocking the high school vote – Silver Chips Online

Current events driving student voter registration – Clayton News-Daily

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The focus of youth voter engagement through legislation and old fashioned registration drives has recently expanded beyond college campuses to high schools and other youth oriented institutions, perhaps in response to the growing political interest that young people ages 18-24 are beginning to show. Additionally, organizations and institutions are waking up to the need to include young people outside the traditional college constituencies. This week's news, ranging from local broadcast outlets to high school student newspapers, showed some examples of innovative ways to mobilize youth.

West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland honored Meadow Bridge High School Wednesday for six consecutive years of 100 percent senior voter registration, according to CBS network affiliate WVNS-TV. A Wednesday posting of Maryland's Montgomery Blair High School's online newspaper, Silver Chips Online boasted an “initiative to combat political apathy among students” by the school's Junior State of America chapter that recently visited senior English classes to register students to vote in the 2008 presidential elections. Further, the Montgomery County Public Schools teamed with the Board of Elections to host voter registration drives at county high schools before Student Member of the Board elections in Montgomery County, Maryland. Attributing current event knowledge to political awareness, the Clayton News Daily reports a 10-15% increase in voter registration for Georgia high school seniors. A 2001 Georgia law “designated April as a month to push voter registration for high school seniors” and this year several different plans emerged to encourage students on a lifetime path of electoral participation. Activities implemented by these plans ranged from demonstrations on voting machines to debates on current events and even to mock campaigns.

These are encouraging developments, but the registration rate of young people continues to lag behind that of older groups. Current statistics show that that less than 50% of eligible voters under 25 are registered to vote. And if you aren’t registered, then you surely aren’t going to vote.

However, this might be a particularly opportune time to reach young people with a program to encourage electoral participation. A recent Pew Research Center study showed 18-29 year olds are more invested in politics now than just 8 years ago, with 85% showing interest in keeping up with national affairs according to 2006 data, compared to 71% in 1999. Interest in local politics leapt from 49% in 1999 to 77% currently. More on youth voting can be found at www.youngvoterstrategies.org.

Reaching voters early in their voting career means a lifetime of civic engagement. Analysis of field research by University of Notre Dame Professor David Nickerson indicates that once a person votes in one election they are 29 percentage points more likely to vote in the next major election. In other words, voting is a habit to be cultivated and a habit that reinforces itself over time. A young voter program, then, helps create habitual voters at the earliest possible juncture.

Some of Project Vote's field partners have asked us to help them design and implement a youth-focused civic involvement and voter participation program centered on college students, high school students and youth in GED programs. These partners plan to concentrate their efforts on urban areas with high concentrations low- and moderate-income people and people of color.

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Project Vote is particularly impressed with the innovation of targeting young people in GED programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics at US Department of Education, as of 2003 only 38% of all 18-24 year olds were enrolled in a degree-granting institution. Programs targeted exclusively to colleges risk missing over 60% of the eligible young voters. Targeting GED programs for voter participation programs is one step in reaching this missing 60%.


In Other News:

In a one-two punch of “one step forward, two steps back” news, the Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a felon re-enfranchisement bill Tuesday, allowing felons who completed their sentences to vote, beginning July 1, while the Denver Post reported that the Colorado House voted unanimously the same day to strike a provision from a Senate bill allowing parolees to vote.

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