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Syracuse's League of Women Voters' initiative encourages voting at local schools

This story was originally published in The Daily Orange

Joan Durant, co-director of voter services at the League of Women Voters of Syracuse Metropolitan Area, learned the importance of voting at an early age. Now, she and the LWV are on a mission to educate teens and young adults about their voting rights and encourage early participation.

“A lot of the kids we talk to are so young and don’t want to think about (voting) yet, but it’s too bad because we need the vote, we need everybody’s vote,” Durant said.

The LWV is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages active government participation through education and advocacy, according to its website. The LWV has over 800 state and local leagues in all 50 states. Its “Get Out the Vote” initiative is focused on registering teenagers and young adults to vote with pre-registration beginning as early as 16, Durant said.

The LWV will offer presentations in classrooms at Corcoran High School, Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler and Henninger High School throughout April. LWV volunteers will educate students about the primaries, the New York state Constitution and the New York Equal Rights Amendment — which will appear on the November 2024 ballot. LWV also provides students the opportunity to pre-register or register to vote, Durant said.

The volunteers make personal connections with students, said Dorothy Hares, a Syracuse University alumna and LWV volunteer who described these connections as a “warm feeling.” In the classroom, she uses studying for an exam as an analogy for voting.

“You need to be preparing — not for a quiz, but for more of an extensive exam. You prepare for it so you’re not anxious, when you walk into vote you’ve already gone through that decision process,” Hares said.

Hares served in the Peace Corps in Liberia, a volunteer-based government program that serves over 60 countries, according to its website. During her time in Liberia, she said she was inspired by the many women she met and decided to join her local LWV upon her return to the United States.

“You need to do your homework before you vote, your effort counts,” Hares said.

Voter education is especially important this year with the upcoming presidential election in November, Durant said. In the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout was lowest among those aged 18 to 24, at 51.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Samantha Espiritu, a freshman public relations student in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, recalled when her local league visited her high school in April 2023. Volunteers walked seniors through voter registration, Espiritu said.

“It was great that they came into our classes,” Espiritu said. “(Voting) may be something that is on the back of your mind but never gets done. To have it right in front of you in class was quick and easy.”

New York is one of 18 states that permit voter pre-registration at 16, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pre-registration allows teenagers to easily transition into becoming eligible voters once they turn 18, according to Headcount.

“I was still 17 at the time, and now the election’s coming up in a few months and I’ll be ready,” Espiritu said.

LWV volunteers also table at Le Moyne College and Onondaga Community College and go door-to-door in Syracuse’s Southside neighborhood in an effort to motivate residents to vote, Durant said.

“The representatives we vote for need to represent all of us. We need more people, we need the numbers, we need people to get out there and use their vote,” Durant said.