06 Sep Texas takes steps to ensure high school students can register to vote

by Mimi Marziani

hs-voterThe right to vote is fundamental. Registering to vote should be an easy, straightforward, and open process for everyone but especially so for young people who are beginning to get their first experiences in the voting process. In fact, numerous studies show that when young people learn the voting process early, they are more likely to continue their democratic participation later in life. It also increases the likelihood that others in their households will vote, especially among immigrant families. Unfortunately, in Texas, there are still too many barriers to getting young people registered to vote.

Last week, the Texas Secretary of State released a letter to all high school principals in the state reminding them of their obligation to register eligible high school students to vote. Under the Texas election code, high school principals are required to provide at least two opportunities for eligible students to register to vote every year. The Secretary also released a brand new FAQ document for high school principals to learn about their responsibilities and ensure that students can participate in the democratic process.

For more than three years, TCRP has been investigating compliance with the state’s high school voter registration law and producing detailed reports outlining widespread non-compliance and ignorance of the statute. In a sample study we conducted in 2013, we found that 41 percent of superintendents never distributed voter registration forms to students in their districts. Simply put,  too many high schools did not know the law existed, while others were too afraid to register students because they felt there was insufficient training and information. As a result, many students were not given the opportunity and information they needed to register to vote.

Although the letter and FAQ are significant steps forward, our efforts continue. In this election year and the future, we want to make sure that high schools are going above and beyond their legal obligations to empower their students to register and vote. Along with the Secretary and other organizations, we continue to monitor full compliance with the election code and provide tools and information for high school principals across the state to follow the law.

We’re also supporting the amazing efforts of groups like the Texas Organizing Project that are organizing students, parents, and faculty in high schools to hold voter registration and information drives. These efforts will instill the value of democratic participation in high schoolers across the state of Texas.

Mimi Marziani is the Executive Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.