We know that students are more likely to become engaged and active citizens when they “rigorously teach civic content and skills, ensure an open classroom climate for discussing issues, emphasize the importance of the electoral process, and encourage a participative school culture” (Torney-Purta, 2002), and Escambia County in Florida has shown us a way in which we might get students to experience the expectations, responsibilities, and practice of citizenship! Earlier this year, we shared with you the news that we have partnered with the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. This partnership is intended to encourage these skilled and knowledgeable civic leaders to interact with schools, teachers, and students in an effort to expose kids to more than simply the stuff they read in the book or see online. Escambia has taken advantage of the relationship that they have developed with their own local supervisor, David H. Stafford, and he has helped their students understand the voting process and how the system as a whole works. While this relationship has been ongoing for at least a decade, this year was a high point! But why would the Supervisor of Elections, no doubt a busy person, want to engage with teenagers? Well, in his own words
“Our mission — outreach in particular to young folks — is to familiarize potential voters with the process and importance of voting. By doing this, we found they are more likely to engage in the process when they’re old enough.”
They use the same process for the elections occurring at the school that is used during political elections, and students get to use the voting machines as well. I also found this very exciting:
officials also pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and hold registration drives at two other Escambia County high schools and the George Stone Technical Center.
“It’s the same verification procedure. They are held in a pending status and are automatically registered at 18. My office mails them a letter notifying them and their voter registration card,” Stafford explained of the preregistration drives.
“Every day, I am signing 15 to 25 letters that are mailed to new voters.”
The process is working — as of Wednesday morning, 1,369 Escambia County 16- and 17-year-olds had pre-registered to vote.
This is wonderful, especially as some states have made pre-registering kids to vote illegal. Why anyone would want to discourage registration and voting I do not know.