It’s a “civics class” and then some. Wake County high school students are registering to vote in unprecedented numbers, in fact, more that triple the level of the last school year. The county system reports more than 3,600 students registered during this school year, compared to just over 1,000 last year.
The district has been pushing high schools to run voter registration drives — non-partisan, of course — which the Wake system sees as part of its plan to produce graduates who are going to be part of something the school district calls “productive citizenship.” Said Abby Stotsenberg, who coordinates the voter registration effort, “We don’t want to influence their choice of party affiliation or their choice of candidates, but we do like to stress that this is their way to make their voices heard.”
Amen to that. And the effort in Wake is positively awe-inspiring when one considers that the U.S. Census shows less than half of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States were registered to vote in the last presidential election year. It was the most underrepresented group in terms of the age demographic.
Bob Hall, who as executive director of the nonprofit voting rights group Democracy North Carolina has expressed his disappointment over voter suppression maneuvers on the part of the General Assembly, is downright proud of the young people in Wake County. Hall notes that lawmakers seemed to have done what they could to make it more difficult for people to vote, with a voter ID law, ending same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote.
“I congratulate the Wake County school system,” Hall said, “because the recent changes have almost all targeted young people.”
The changes were brought about by a Republican-run General Assembly, who seemed to act to make it more difficult for the young and the elderly and the poor to vote, perhaps fearing those groups of voters might be inclined to vote Democratic.
That’s not necessarily so, of course. Doubtless some of these young registrants in Wake County, for example, will do as many young voters have historically done and followed the voting and party preferences of their parents. Certainly that’s going to include Democrats, Republicans and Independents, along with the increasingly large percentage of voters who classify themselves as unaffiliated.
As young people build their numbers on registration rolls, they’ll find that politicians will have no choice but to pay attention to them. That will make for a better-run democracy.