The Lawrence League of Women Voters is working to register hundreds of area high school seniors to vote. But first, league members have to convince them that their vote matters, not just overall, but to them personally.
“It’s getting students to realize that the people who we elect actually do make laws that affect them,” said Cille King, league vice president.
In the past month, members of the league visited Free State High School, Lawrence High School and the Lawrence College and Career Center. They have collected voter registration applications from 319 students, with about half of those including the necessary identification documents as well.
King concedes young voters are usually a difficult group to reach. In every presidential election since 1964, voters between the ages of 18 and 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2012, 38 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the presidential election and about half as many voted in the 2014 midterm elections.
Having direct conversations with high school students about voting is the most effective strategy, King said. Previously, the league set up tables during the students’ lunch hour, but for the past two years they have been visiting students’ senior U.S. Government classes. The classroom visits yielded more than three times as many applications, King said.
“That’s certainly an improvement over the last years we’ve been doing it,” she said.
King said having a captive audience gave them more opportunity to ask students about their interests and what issues are important to them. Getting young people interested in voting involves making connections between the issues they find most important — such as policies affecting K-12 education, the cost of higher education and the environment — and elected officials, King said.
“All of those things really matter to the young people; if they can get past the negativity and the politics, then perhaps they’ll vote.”
The league is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. Members can help register anyone who will be 18 by November, which qualifies Lawrence high school seniors and some juniors, King said.
Despite the increased number of applications with the league's most recent effort, King said that the additional documents required to register make completing the process more of a challenge.
“The one problem is that just a little over half provided their documents, and they aren’t really done until they do that,” she said. “Some students tell us that their parents have it in a safe deposit box, or their family is separated and their mom has it in Colorado — any number of things might be happening.”
In October, a new state law took effect requiring county election officers to cancel incomplete voter registration applications that have been lingering or “in suspense” for more than 90 days.
King said that students who didn’t have their paperwork the day of the visit can still provide their proof of citizenship documents to the Douglas County clerk to complete their registration. A list of suspense voters — including high school students from the league’s past registration drives — and instructions on how to complete registration is available on the group’s website.
The group also plans to return to both Lawrence high schools next semester, as well as Baldwin City High School. King said if other schools or organizations would like to arrange for the league to make a visit to register voters, the league can be contacted via its Facebook page.