New push to increase voter registrations in high schools filed in Tallahassee

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Citing studies that show the move could increase registration among 18-year-olds by more than 800,000 per year, Sen. Annette Taddeo and Rep. Anna V. Eskamani filed a set of bills Monday aimed at increasing youth voting.

The identical bills from the two Democrats would require public high schools to give students a presentation on voter registration and allow the opportunity for those students to register or preregister online.

In Florida, U.S. citizens can register to vote at 18 or preregister as early as 16. Voter outreach is required in schools under Florida law. But those efforts have a history of going undone or unreported and there’s no registration requirement. Eskamani said similar programs allowed her to register to vote. She also said new tools, such as online registration and expanded preregistration, can be used to “turn up civic engagement.”

“I first got preregistered to vote as a high school student in Orange County thanks to the leadership of my public-school teacher,” Eskamani said. “And that was before online voter registration was even an option. Now we have technology as a friend to help increase voter preregistration and registration for students and their families.”

Seven other states already have laws on the books supporting voter registration in schools. And a 2009 Comparative Study of Electoral Systems found that as “policymakers consider how to implement preregistration programs elsewhere, providing for means of ensuring participation by educators, such as requiring preregistration as a component of a mandatory high school civics curriculum, will likely result in the most robust implementation of preregistration.”

Most of Florida’s voter registration happens at the DMV. In 2021, more than 544,000 Floridians registered or preregistered to vote at a DMV office, accounting for nearly 88% of new registrations. Over the last four years, DMV registrations make up about 69% of registrations. But the youth vote is heavily underrepresented. Project Vote found that voters under 30 were registered at a rate 10 percentage points lower than the general population and voted at a rate 13 percentage points lower. It also found that high school registrations could dramatically increase the youth vote. Project Vote estimated about 800,000 more 18-year-olds could be registered every year if they registered at the same rate as the rest of the population.

“Our youth are the leaders and change-makers of tomorrow. By providing accessible voter registration in Florida’s public schools, we are facilitating a space where these students can contribute to the democratic process of this great nation,” Taddeo said. “Many people in our state don’t know that if you turn 18 years old by election time, you can preregister at the age of 17 years old and these presentations can help inform on just that.”

In Orlando, Fred Asare-Konadu and John Bedell, have implemented similar programs in five high schools and want to see the program go statewide.

“We saw an opportunity to help our generation have a lasting impact and we realized that one of the ways we could help our friends, as well as our generation as a whole, be more involved in this system was by encouraging participation through voting,” Asare-Konadu said. “From there, this initiative was born.”

Under the bill, presentations would be designed by the Division of Elections. The bill also prevents students from being coerced or forced into joining a particular political party and prevents teachers from handling applications.

Daniel Figueroa IV is just your friendly, neighborhood journalism junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at danuscripts@gmail.com.

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