This year, National Voter Registration Day is this Tuesday, September 22. And if the uncertainty and stress of this year’s back-to-school season meant that date snuck up on you, you’re not alone. Several reports show voter registration numbers that are significantly lower than at this same point in 2016.
Though there’s not much time—the deadline for voter registration is less than two weeks away in many parts of the United States—educators can do a lot to help close that gap. If you work with students who are eligible to register or pre-register to vote, taking just a little time on your own to prepare and no more than 10 minutes of class time to help them register will go a long way. Here’s what we’d recommend.
To Get Ready
1. Check the registration requirements for your state.
This resource from CBS News is regularly updated, and it can help you find the answers to a few key questions:
- What is the deadline for voter registration in your state?
- What is the age at which people are eligible to register or pre-register to vote?
- What information is required to register to vote? (e.g., address, social security number, driver’s license, etc.)
- Does your state allow online voter registration?
2. Decide whether you want to register online or on paper.
If you’re working remotely with students, online registration will likely be the most efficient way to support them. In 40 states and the District of Columbia, eligible future voters can register online through the office of their secretary of state.
However, there are benefits to paper registration, including increased accessibility for those without internet access. And if you live in Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas or Wyoming, you’ll have to register by mail.
It’s critical, however, to check your state’s requirements for mail-in voting registration. Here are a few questions to ask.
- How is the deadline set? In Maine and South Dakota, registrations are due on October 19, but they must be received by that date. In other states, with earlier due dates, the deadline is determined by a postmark.
- What are the options for election-day registration? In New Hampshire, Maine and Montana, for example, voters can register and cast their ballots on election day. However, only New Hampshire specifies that voters can register at their polling places. Some voters in Maine and Montana may have to register at the town office or city hall and then go to another location to cast their ballots.
- What are the requirements for mail-in registration? In Wyoming, for example, all voter registration forms must be notarized.
3. Plan how you’ll include everyone.
It’s important to remember that not all students are eligible to vote. Students who aren’t citizens, for example, can put themselves in jeopardy by completing a voter registration form.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to let students know ahead of time that you’ll be registering together the following day, and encourage students to let their families know. You’ll want to ensure that no student is required to register. And while it’s easier for students to discretely opt-out if you’re registering online, you’ll want to think through how you can best create options for students to opt-out either remotely or in person.
For more specific recommendations, check out TT’s articles, “Including All Students” and “Five Ways to Support Undocumented Students During the Election Season.”
To Support Student Voter Registration
4. Model the process.
In many states, online or paper voter registration forms aren’t totally intuitive. Completing the registration alongside your students, rather than having them register as an assignment, allows time to answer their questions.
In their recommendations for supporting student voter registration, the League of Women Voters recommends slowing down or double-checking some key information on the form:
- age verification
- citizenship verification
- any identifying numbers (e.g., driver’s license, social security)
- signature and date
5. Teach about voting.
As you help students get registered, you might discuss the registration process itself. Ask them to think about why and how the process might be easier—and why they think it isn’t. Delving into the idea that confusion and challenge are forms of voter suppression can help students translate insecurity or frustration into resolve.
Jey Ehrenhalt’s story “Uplifting the Student Vote” details some of the ways that state legislatures have made voter registration more difficult and more confusing in recent years. You might share with students that many experts believe lower voter turnout among young people is due to the challenges they face getting registered and voting, not to apathy. You could also provide the statistic from The New York Times that 67% of people under the age of 30 who were registered voted in the 2018 midterms.
Registering to vote is an important first step for students to get their voices heard—and it’s one that needs to be taken soon. But it’s only the first step. Over the next few months, we hope you’ll return to this election, continue to teach about the history and present of voting rights in this country and help students feel capable and confident when they walk into the polls for the first time in November.