Students join voter rolls

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Washington High School seniors Elizabeth Gonzalez, 17, and Rian Freeman, 17, pre-register to vote Tuesday. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)


Staff Writer
Laura Thompson still remembers when she registered to vote for the first time.
“I was a senior in high school and Bill Clinton was running and I actually registered early so I could vote,” she said.
This week, the Washington High School social studies teacher had a chance to encourage students to follow in her footsteps. The school’s Student Government Association started a voter registration drive Tuesday and plan to continue efforts today during lunch periods.
Students who will be 18 years old by Nov. 6 were encouraged to register and SGA members were on hand to answer questions about the registration process. The question most often asked was about preregistration. Because North Carolina allows teenagers 16 and older to preregister to vote, the drive focused on juniors and seniors.
Five other states allow citizens to preregister as young as 16, but North Carolina’s law is the only one that requires election officials to hold drives like the one Washington has this week in high schools annually, said Democracy North Carolina. The five states are Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland and Rhode Island.
As co-advisor of the Student Government Association, Thompson lent her support and corralled eligible students from the halls and cafeteria.
“Because most of our students are under 18, our goal is just to have as many as are eligible to vote register,” Thompson said.
According to Democracy North Carolina, more than 60,000 North Carolina teenagers will be eligible to vote in the upcoming election.
With a senior class of about 270, Thompson estimated about a third of them will be eligible to vote in November.
Voting is one of the subjects stressed in Thompson’s social studies courses. She said all of the school’s social studies courses encourage students to vote, be up on current events and make their voices heard by contacting their representatives.
Senior Thomas Hall volunteered at the drive. He will not be old enough to vote in the upcoming election but encouraged classmates to register.
“You can’t complain about what the president does if you don’t vote,” Hall said.
An analysis by Democracy North Carolina of teenage preregistrants indicates that 30 percent are affiliating with the Democratic Party and the same share – 30 percent – is signing up with the Republican Party. One percent is aligning with the Libertarian Party and 39 percent are choosing none of the parties.
“These young voters run the gamut, from those signing up at the DMV almost automatically when they get their first driver’s license, to those who fill out the form in high school after studying the election process in their civics class,” said Hall. “They are more independent and more inclined to evaluate candidates without relying on party labels.”
Thousands more teenagers are signing up this month because the same North Carolina law requires county boards of elections to conduct voter registration and preregistration drives in high schools each year during Citizens Awareness Month (September).
More than 8,500 youth age 16 and 17 preregistered during September 2011, Hall said, and at least that number will likely sign up this year.
Washington High School student Rebekah Langston took advantage of the school’s registration drive to preregister. She would encourage any teenager old enough to vote to get involved in the upcoming election.
“Apathy is probably not the best way to get what we want done in office,” Langston said.