In the midst of a pandemic and nationwide protests against systemic racism, two truths have become clear: Voter suppression hasn’t stopped—and young people continue to lead the clarion calls for change.
Bearing those truths in mind, and as the United States moves deeper into an election season this fall, educators have an opportunity and responsibility to advocate for their students’ right to vote and encourage civic action. One simple but effective way to do this is to lead a voter registration drive in your school community.
Of course, this isn’t a normal election season. Just as the coronavirus pandemic has required educators to overcome many obstacles in developing distance learning plans, voter registration drives can be complicated by remote learning and social distancing guidelines. But that doesn’t mean they are impossible. It’s time to get creative about how to register voters. After all, the stakes are high.
Teaching Tolerance offers Future Voters grants to support voter registration drives at school—and these grants can easily be adapted to a virtual setting. Consider some of these suggestions for supporting future student voters and student activism, all while adhering to safety and social distancing guidelines related to COVID-19.
Host a virtual voter registration party.
With help from a video conferencing platform, you can invite speakers, discuss important issues or host an engagement event with performers to build community and generate excitement about voting. When We All Vote (WWAV), a nonpartisan, nonprofit voter engagement organization, hosts “couch parties” where volunteers train remotely to learn how to activate eligible voters and help them register online.
WWAV streams these events on Instagram live, often with famous entertainers, musicians and DJs. Volunteers at these couch parties have reached more than 550,000 eligible voters. Educators or student-led groups can do similar work that is localized to their communities and the needs of their peers.
Organize a social media campaign.
Reach students remotely with social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter to raise awareness about the importance of registering to vote. There are many possibilities for using social media to support a voter registration drive in your school community.
For example, you might host a live Q&A about registration and voting on Facebook or Instagram. You could encourage recipients to spread the word about voting and ask peers about their plans to register and vote this November, be it in-person, by mail or absentee.
Or you could shift the focus to students by encouraging them to come up with creative informational campaigns (e.g., TikTok videos) to help viewers check registration status, receive proper forms, recognize deadlines and return their ballots.
Utilize distance learning resources.
Will your school be using mail to disperse work packets or information to families? See if you can include registration forms. Will there be drop-off points for food or technology? See if these places can be utilized to provide or collect students’ voter registration forms. If learning can be asynchronous, so can registration drives. Many of the tools you’ll need are already in place to provide students with needed information and resources.
Celebrate National Voter Registration Day online on September 22.
On the fourth Tuesday this September, students and educators can contact school community members via social media or email, encouraging them to verify their voter registration and polling place, request mail-in or absentee ballots, and vote. This is also an opportunity to encourage voter pre-registration and registration for all those eligible. National Voter Registration Day offers resources for social media and other outreach tools for those wishing to contact eligible voters.
Remember: If students aren’t eligible to vote, their participation is still needed. Students can engage as civic actors through community service, pledging to encourage others to vote or supporting online organizing work. In many states, young people not yet eligible to vote can train to serve as student poll workers, addressing a critical need during a pandemic that will force many volunteers to stay home. Whatever opportunities you choose to share, make sure your messaging and drives include everyone.
Now is the time to begin planning. Whether students are learning in the classroom or at home, their voices still make a difference, and it is up to educators to support their right to engage in civic participation and elections. To learn more about how to register students and find all of our voting-related resources, visit our Future Voters Project hub and join our movement to register as many eligible students as we can.
For more resources for teaching about elections and voting, check out our Future Voters Project.