National Voter Registration Day: Do Your Part to Increase Participation This Year
Did you know that New Jersey law requires that schools help students register to vote?
Well, not exactly. To be more specific, New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:32-14.1 does state …
District boards of education […] shall provide to each eligible high school student prior to the school year’s graduation date a voter registration form, a summary of voter registration eligibility requirements, and materials describing the role of a citizen and the importance of voting, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:36-27.
My first thought is, “Do all districts actually do that?” But we’ll dispense with the doubt and get to the point – schools ought to be helping students register to vote and there is state statute and administrative code to support that idea. I’m pretty sure that most building administrators would be supportive of any project to register students to vote, so long as it was done in a fair and non-partisan way.
That’s why you should be a part of National Voter Registration Day and join civic educators and activists throughout the country on Tuesday, September 26 in registering people to vote.
What’s National Voter Registration Day?
It’s really a thing, and its “celebrated” on the fourth Tuesday of September. In 2002, the National Association of State Secretaries established September as National Voter Registration month. In 2012, they created National Voter Registration Day, which was later set as the fourth Tuesday of September.
On this day, partners from around the country – including among others the United Way, NAN, the League of Women Voters, MTV, Facebook, and Twitter – host events and support volunteers who register voters. Last year, there were over 3,500 partner organizations, and they collectively registered three quarters of a million people.
What Can I Do?
You can raise awareness about voter registration and National Voter Registration Day at your school. You can also work directly to register students to vote.
Here are five suggestions for ways that you can be a part of NVRD this year.
- Make an announcement in the morning about National Voter Registration Day. Be sure to include some history about voting and registration. Better yet, write an announcement and have a student say it over the intercom.
- Hand out voter registration forms to students in your class who meet the requirements and walk them through the process. If you don’t teach seniors, you could recruit some senior teachers to do this. Senior English is a great place to reach just about every student in the school.
- Teach a lesson about voting and registration in your social studies class. Some potential topics include the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voter suppression in the Jim Crow south, the women’s suffrage movement, and the phasing out of property qualifications for voting in the early 19th century. Step it up a notch and share the idea at your social studies department meeting to get your other colleagues in on the game. It’s a great way to get underclassmen or middle school students involved.
- Bring a guest speaker, like a local councilperson, county freeholder, or state legislator, to speak to a group of students. Distribute voter registration forms for those eligible to vote. Depending on how many students you have, you may want to consider hosting multiple sessions to keep the crowd smaller and allow for more interaction with the speaker.
- Train student leaders to register others to vote. Have them set up a table at lunch, in gym, or in some other central point in the school. Consider giving them a list of eligible students broken down by homeroom so that they can directly contact the students and offer them the opportunity to register.
Naturally, you should consult with the appropriate administrator before embarking on one of these projects. But I can’t imagine that many admins would object. If yours does, I’d call your local association leadership. I’d love to get that call…
New Jersey Specific Voter Registration Information
For the rest of the country, 2017 is a sleepy election year. There isn’t much going on. But here in New Jersey, we’re electing a governor, our entire state legislator, and any number of county and local officials. Information for voter registration in New Jersey can be found on the Division of Elections website.
The deadline to register is 21 days before the election. Election day is Tuesday, November 7. Therefore, the registration deadline is Tuesday, October 17.
In a confusing change, New Jersey now allows 17 year olds to register to vote. However, they may not vote until they turn 18.
This is a good thing in that it allows students to register earlier. But if you register a 17 year old, you should definitely have a conversation with them to determine the election in which they can vote. That might not be the upcoming general election, but it might be in April’s school board election, a May non-partisan municipal election, or the next June primary.
So What Are You Waiting For?
Get to planning. National Voter Registration Day is only about two weeks away.