New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 30 have the lowest voter turnout and lowest voter registration rate relative to any other age group. A paltry 4% of city residents in this age group voted in the 2009 general election.
Every year, 80,000 voter registration forms are delivered to our city’s high schools -- given to students when they graduate along with their diploma -- but there is no system of follow-up to ensure that the forms are filled out, filled out correctly, or mailed to the Board of Elections.
Last year my office began working with Every Vote Counts. We thought about ways to engage young people in the democratic process and to boost the number of young, registered voters.
What better way to reach young people than in school?
We envisioned a day of civic education and voter registration during the school year -- a day that would educate high school students about the importance of voting and give them the opportunity to register to vote in the classroom. Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD) was born.
The response to this idea was more than we could’ve imagined. On March 20th, 15 Council Members partnered with nearly a dozen non-partisan voting organizations to hold SVRD at 25 schools in all five boroughs, bringing civic education to over 3,000 students and registering over 2,000 of them.
This pilot program recognizes that we are a city of immigrants and emphasizes that citizenship status is no barrier to being involved in your community. There was information about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) available to all students during SVRD, including those who weren’t eligible to register to vote because of their citizenship status.
The overarching message of SVRD is that all people – and particularly young people, whether or not they are eligible to vote – can and should be involved in their communities
There are many different ways to get involved, whether that’s through participatory budgeting, being part of the local community board (which you can now do as a 16- or 17-year-old), joining an advocacy organization, or, if eligible, by voting every year in local, state, and national elections.
I was thrilled to bring SVRD to three high schools in my district -- Frank McCourt High School, Global Learning Collaborative, and Innovation Diploma Plus -- and I want to thank NYC Votes, the New York Immigration Coalition, the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause for providing facilitators and volunteers for SVRD at these schools.
This generation was lucky enough to be born with the right to vote, regardless of race or gender. Our next challenge is to raise awareness of the value of voting and civic participation. Every voice matters, and Student Voter Registration Day gives students the opportunity to understand the impact they can make through civic participation -- both in and out of the voting booth.
Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side on the New York City Council