This law does not change the state’s voting age, but it does automatically register each individual on his or her 18th birthday.
To encourage students to take a proactive role in the democratic process and to build a new generation of civic leaders, Valencia High School hosted an all-day voter pre-registration event in the hopes of pre-registering all 1,600 eligible students.
“I know how knowledgeable these students are… I know how smart they are in the classroom so I thought it was important for them to do the next step and have them register to vote,” said Douglas Broers, a Valencia High School government teacher and the voter outreach coordinator. “A lot of people don’t know about the option for 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote.”
Broers organized the all-day event with student leaders from Valencia High School’s Democrats, Young Conservatives, and Speech & Debate clubs.
“From a teacher’s point of view, I thought it was awesome that we had the Speech and Debate club, the Young Democrats club and the Young Conservative club come together to work on an event like this,” Broers said.
The students worked together to reach out to various political groups, invite elected officials to speak and set up dozens of computers in the school’s multipurpose room.
“This was a relative new process for me directing something this big and this meaningful that is the step in the right direction for so many,” said senior Ryan Pugh, co-president of the Young Conservatives club. “Young voters or potential voters aren’t very engaged in the political system so this hopefully will engage them and provide a next step into educating them.”
Senior Allyson Sagardia, president of the Valencia High School Democrats, also hoped the event encouraged young people to get involved in politics and voice their opinions.
“I think it really says something when you’re getting the young people of America to get involved in politics,” she said. “I think once they become adults, and have an opportunity to be out in the world and make their own decisions, they just have a little bit more background information on what they’re doing or what they can do.”
This message was also echoed by senior Brian Pape, an officer with the Valencia High School Young Conservatives, who hoped the event inspired his classmates to become educated voters.
“Our [the Young Conservative’s] goal was not so much to focus on political party but to talk about the political spectrum and how to bring everyone together,” Pape said. “We’re going to teach you obviously the conservative side, but we will also talk about the democratic side and liberal side so you can make your own decisions.”
During his speech at the beginning of the event, Joe Messina, president of the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board, encouraged the students to do their research about each party and candidate before casting their votes at the ballot box.
“It’s not just a privilege; you have a right to vote as Americans. There are people in other countries who don’t have a right to do this and, frankly, they would be killed for suggesting they should be able to choose their leaders,” Messina said. “So don’t waste your vote, don’t waste your registration… Do your homework, please be informed and make sure you register and make sure you follow through and vote.”
With family members in her birthplace of Cuba, Edel Alonso, a member of the Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees, understands firsthand how important the right to vote is.
“Every time I walk into a voting booth I get goosebumps because it’s so exciting for me knowing how many people don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “Whatever party you sign up for, we just want you to be engaged in the process.”
During his speech to students, Bryan Caforio, a democratic candidate for California’s 25th Congressional District, emphasized the importance of every person’s vote in campaigns big and small.
“There are 435 members of Congress and we’ve got one right here. It’s the 25th Congressional District and it was the fifth or sixth closest race in the whole country,” he said. “You’re actually pretty lucky being right here where your vote could make a difference there.”
Caforio also highlighted the importance of each vote by referring to the 2000 presidential election, which came down to about 500 votes in the state of Florida.
“More people are going to be registered here today than could have changed a presidential election. When you think about whether or not you should vote, about whether or not you should exercise that right, think about that. You are so important,” he said.
Many elected officials were also impressed with the enthusiasm behind the event and with the engagement young people had in the democratic process.
“It’s interesting to hear their perspective,” said Christy Smith, a member of the Newhall School District Governing Board and candidate for California’s 38th Assembly District. “They’re really thinking about issues. They’re thinking about national issues and regional issues and much more engaged then I’ve seen young people in the last few election cycles.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_