Outreach Program Successfully Targets Young Voters
Placer County's Registrar of Voters has started an outreach program that has young voters registering and getting to the polls in record numbers.
Friday, November 3, 2006
Juniors and seniors in the third period government class at Colfax High School file into the library for a special session.
Placer County election officials have come to talk to them about voting:
My name is Ferrin Call. I work for Placer County elections. When this program started, voter participation among your age group was very low in Placer County. For about every 100 of you, only three people were showing up to vote….
Ferrin Call has given this speech to thousands of teenagers. She and Placer County registrar Jim McCauley visit dozens of high schools each year.
In the past two months alone, McCauley and company have talked to more than two thousand students. Of those, about 15 hundred have registered to vote.
McCauley came up with the idea of going out to high schools about ten years ago, when voting numbers for 18 to 24 year olds in Placer County were dismal:
Placer County was like every other county. Our registration for young adults was about 20, 21 percent, and on Election Day, about 18 percent of that 20 percent actually voted.
So, McCauley decided if young voters wouldn’t come to him, he would go to them. And he’s making a difference. Unlike just about everywhere else in the country, young adults in Placer County are voting:
Approximately 85 percent of our young adults are now registered voters and out of that, about 68 percent actually vote on election day. It’s the highest total for any county in the state of California, and highest total across the United States.
The California Secretary of State’s office doesn’t keep statistics on young voters, so McCauley’s numbers can’t be independently verified.
McCauley says his program is so successful because he takes the mystery and the obstacles out of voting:
No one actually takes a registration card and puts it in their hands and says, this is how you fill out the card. Second reason why they don’t vote is that they’re intimidated to walk into a polling place, they don’t know how to use the voting equipment. So hence that’s why we take out the voting equipment to allow the students to familiarize themselves with what’s going to happen on Election Day.
McCauley also gets more kids registered because he has gotten permission from the Secretary of State to allow 17 year olds to fill out registration cards. Then he holds the cards until their 18th birthday, when he enters them into the system.
At the Colfax High Library, Ferrin Call is getting the students ready to take their first big step in the voting process:
We’re now going to get you registered to vote…These need to be filled out in ink. If you need a pen, please raise your hand and someone will bring pens around…
Next, Call prepares the students for their mock vote, which includes choices like best author and best Broadway musical:
We want you to feel very comfortable going into the polling places on election day, so we’re going to ask you to vote your ballots and bring them up and try out the equipment….
The students slide their sample ballots into an optical scan machine set up in one corner of the library.
Eighteen year old Senior Brandon Chastain says he’ll be going to the polls on Tuesday:
I learned that it’s really important to vote and it matters, because there’s a lot of different opinions out there.
State election officials are jumping on McCauley’s bandwagon. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson says reaching young voters is now a priority.
We’re trying to promote young people especially getting involved in the voting process, because there’s just too many who are eligible to vote, who aren’t registered to do so.
McPherson says there are nearly 16 million Californians registered to vote in the upcoming election. He says there are six million more who are eligible to vote, but are not registered. Of those, McPherson says most are in the 18 to 24 year old age group.