High schoolers get a lesson in voting

Michelle Stuckey // Published May 16, 2009 in The Gainesville Sun

With the young vote making such a marked impact on the presidential election last November, a campaign in Alachua County high schools over the last few weeks was well-timed.

The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office went from school to school presenting information on why and how young people should vote, including voting requirements, different ways to vote and political party affiliations.

After the presentations, the office offered materials to register students on the spot. The program also brought materials for 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register.

Schools visited include Buchholz, Santa Fe and Hawthorne high schools and the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften School.

The final visit was Friday to Newberry High School, where about 60 young people registered or pre-registered to vote after the presentations, which occurred in senior classes throughout the day.

This brought the total number of students who are now registered or pre-registered because of the campaign to more than 200, said Kim Barton, outreach director for the supervisor of elections office.

Barton said the office is pleased with how many students decided to start participating, but that the number is lower than in past years.

"Normally our numbers are much higher than that," Barton said. "A lot (of students) have pre-registered already because last year's elections brought so much youth interest. The candidates really did gear towards young people."

The minimum age for pre-registration for voting dropped from 17 to 16 in January of this year, allowing more high school students to register in advance.

"I like the younger age requirement, but so much can change in those two years," Barton said. "I always stress to make sure to let us know if you've moved. Our whole goal is to just make sure they know how we vote and the importance of their vote."

The office also looked for students who would want to be poll workers in upcoming elections. Barton said she received about 15 applications from Newberry students on Friday.

The presentations focused on the importance of local elections as a way to influence your immediate area.

"I'm not going to walk into my local grocery store and run into President Obama, but I might run into a city or county commissioner," Barton told the students. "(Local) elections are crucial. They're just as important as federal elections."