Voter registration drives get youth involved

Michigan children and youth can work together in teams to plan and conduct a voter registration drive in their community to help citizens register to vote in November elections.

September 12, 2012 - Author: Brian Wibby, Michigan State University Extension

With the presidential campaigns fully underway following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and the scheduling of the first Presidential Debate on October 3, children and youth may have increased interest in participating in the democratic process.

According to the US Census Bureau, statistics from the Nov. 2008 presidential election indicate that 77 percent of Michigan voting-age citizens were registered to vote and 68 percent of Michigan voting-age citizens voted in the election. Increasing the number of citizens that register and vote in the upcoming election is something that can connect youth to the election in meaningful ways. Planning and conducting a voter registration drive is also an excellent way for children and youth to practice good citizenship and to develop a variety of valuable life skills along the way.

September is National Voter Registration Month and the National Association of Secretaries of State has declared September 25, 2012 to be National Voter Registration Day. Children and youth can gain planning and organizing skills, teamwork skills and communication skills through planning and conducting a voter registration drive or setting up a voter registration booth in their community. Children and youth can also increase their knowledge of voting rights and responsibilities by researching the topic as they plan and prepare for their registration drive.

To get started, a group of youth and an adult helper should form a registration drive planning team and select a date and location for their voter registration drive. The drive could be held at high-school or college campuses, shopping centers, sporting events, libraries or at local community events. A member of the planning team member should contact the staff at the location they wish to hold the drive to get permission ahead of time. The final day for Michigan residents to register to vote in the Nov. 6, 2012 election is Oct. 9. If the group chooses to hold their registration drive on the National Voter Registration Day, they can register their event online and get publicity.

Once a date and location has been finalized, the team members should learn about the process and requirements to become a registered voter in Michigan. The Michigan Voter Information Center, accessible online at the Michigan Secretary of State website, provides voter registration and election information for the State of Michigan. Voter registration applications can be downloaded from the website, obtained from a local Secretary of State branch office or from a city, county or township’s clerk office.

Michigan Votes: Registering and Voting in Michigan” a brochure produced by the Michigan Secretary of State, provides an overview of registration requirements and voting options for Michigan residents. Registration drive teams can review the brochure and website to learn about voter registration and voting requirements, and may choose to have some copies of the brochure available on the day of their registration drive.

Registration drive teams will want to create signs and banners to attract attention during their event. Teams may also want to create informational displays that educate the public about voter registration and voting procedures and rules. Registration teams should provide the locations of nearby city and township clerk’s offices for those completing their applications. Applications can be mailed or brought to the clerk’s office by the applicant. Teams may want to have stamps available for applicants to purchase for mailing their application. Some type of record-keeping system should be designed so that the registration drive team can keep track of the number of people they spoke with and the number of people they helped to register.

Teams may contact their local TV, newspaper or other media outlets to share their registration drive plans. A story in the news can help the team spread their message about the importance of registration and voting to an even greater audience.

After the event, the registration drive team should take time to reflect on and celebrate their accomplishments. Through their community service and educational efforts, more people from their community will be registered to vote and they will have helped to educate adults about the importance of voter registration and voting.

Tags: 4-h, citizenship & service, civic engagement, community service & service learning, government, leadership, msu extension

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