Our youngest citizens are the group least likely to vote – and have been for years. Since voting is a pretty basic part of our civic obligations, it seems like we’d want to look for ways to increase their participation.
In truth, in North Carolina, the legislature has tried to go in another direction. Voter ID requirements would have presented an obstacle for some young voters. And the legislature tried to eliminate a provision that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register early, so when their 18th birthday rolled around they would be ready to go to the polls.
But last year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that legislation, and this week the Durham Public Schools Board of Education is considering a policy change to take advantage of preregistration’s reinstatement. The board began weighing the policy to adopt a policy encouraging high schools to register eligible students Thursday, and would seem likely .
Under the policy, a superintendent-appointed committee of social studies teachers and other personnel will work with the Durham County Board of Elections to facilitate student registration. Durham’s public schools already make registration forms available in libraries for students, parents or teachers.
“The board is committed to securing the future of democracy by preparing young people to be educated, engaged voters,” the policy states. “Further, the board is committed to working in collaboration with the local board of elections to encourage students to register to vote as permitted by North Carolina law.”
Data underscore the opportunities in working to boost young people’s participation in the electoral process. In 2016, barely more than 40 percent of people 18 to 29 voted. That percentage rises with every age cohort, peaking at more than 70 percent of the over-60 crowd voting.
It is worth noting that low voter turnout does not necessarily reflect political apathy among young citizens.
“Millennials in 2016 are significantly less likely to vote or try to influence others’ vote than were the ’80s generation ..., or the first wave of postwar baby boomers in 1967,” Russell Dalton, a research professor at the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in the Washington Post in March 2016. “But millennials display about the same level of political interest as the youngest generation did in 1987, and millennials contact local government and work with others in the community at essentially the same rates as did youth in the earlier surveys. And today’s youth are likely to get involved in protests or other political confrontations.”
Let’s do all we can to extend that interest to actually showing up on Election Day.