It’s a bright, sunny day filled with the sounds of students scampering through the hallways. A bell rings.
Students begin rushing to their classrooms, and I head to my first class, where I will register students to vote. I check my first stop: ROOM 214 HUNT, a government class. I’m joined by Don and Susan, both long-time volunteers with my local League, the League of Women Voters of Arlington/Alexandria. Don and Susan are no strangers to Wakefield High School and high school voter registration.
In Virginia, high school students can register to vote if they are at least 18 years old on or before the next general election — in this case, on Nov 7, 2023. These 17-year-olds can vote in special elections and primaries, specifically presidential primaries. With some major elections approaching, Don, Susan, and I are here to help eligible students participate in our democracy.
Don is a pro at high school voter registration and has visited many schools over the years. Meanwhile, I haven’t visited a high school in years. Yet accompanied by Don and Susan, I knew I was in good hands.
We enter the classroom and introduce ourselves. It's evident that Don has a passion for voting and is enjoying his interaction with the students. Meanwhile, Susan speaks to the students about the history of the League, the suffrage movement, and how women won the right to vote.
Now it’s my turn. Walking over to the whiteboard, I ask the students, “What are some of the most important issues to you?” Students shout out issues like education, roads, climate change, and reproductive rights.
Now that we have the students’ attention, we discuss the importance of voting and choosing the candidate that represents issues like the ones they shouted out. Don explains the power of the youth vote; for example, how in 2018 the percentage of young people voting in the US sharply increased to 31% (up 11% from 2014). In Virginia, the increase was even larger, 33% (up 20 points from 2014), and in 2021 and 2022, the youth voter turnout in VA was 27%. Don continues to drive the message home and shares stories of when young people have made a difference in our democracy, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Young people used their collective power to organize by participating in lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides, and even voting rights marches.
After the brief history lesson comes the fun part: we pass out the voter registration forms. As students fill out their forms, we answer any additional questions and give students who registered a nifty “I registered to vote” sticker. We also passed out candy (who knew that Smarties would be such a big hit?).
To register voters near you, get involved with one of our 700+ local Leagues!
We remind the students they can learn all about the candidates on the ballot by going to VOTE411.org — VOTE411 is a nonpartisan, one-stop shop for all election information, available in English and Spanish. You can use it to check your voter registration status, find your polling place, review candidate guides, see what’s on your ballot, and more.
After registering, I asked some students what made them want to register to vote. Some say they think it’s just the right thing to do, while others see it as an opportunity to have a say in what happens in their communities.
To say this is a humbling experience is an understatement. I’m with students and educators to show them what the League does in action. Local league volunteers play such an important role in their communities. The Arlington/Alexandria League would register 111 students over two days! I'm so fortunate that I have the privilege to share that experience.
In the classroom, I’m already planning my next volunteer activity. As I consider where I’ll volunteer next, the bell rings, and we head to our next class, where we do it all over again.
The Latest from the League
On May 16, 2023, Mary Roche volunteered as a poll worker in her county for Pennsylvania’s municipal primary election. She'd recently joined her local League, and by volunteering, she learned more about everything poll workers do to keep our elections running smoothly and ensure that every voice is heard.
1. Sign the League of Women Voter’s Petition
Make sure your grad is ready to make their voice heard as they step into the world with these VOTE411 postcards!