09/16/12 — 16 and ready to vote? (well, almost)

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16 and ready to vote? (well, almost)

By Phyllis Moore and Steve Herring
Published in News on September 16, 2012 1:50 AM

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Southern Wayne High School senior K'Yana McLean, 17, fills out voter registration forms during an election drive for students held at the school Thursday.

Wayne County's 16- to 18-year-olds have shown no particular political party preference over the past three years that they have been eligible to preregister to vote.

Their non-preference closely mirrors figures statewide.

Since 2010, the first year that young people as young as 16 could lawfully preregister, 1,893 Wayne County students have done so.

The numbers are split almost evenly between Democrat, 639 or 33.8 percent, Republican, 617 or 32. 6 percent, and unaffiliated, 627 or 33.1 percent.

Statewide the numbers are 30.2 percent Democrat, 30.1 percent Republican, and 38.6 percent unaffiliated.

Wayne County election officials are visiting high schools in the county this month, encouraging teenagers to preregister to vote.

Students preregistration forms are held by the state Board of Elections until the student reaches voting age. When the pre-registered teens become old enough to fully register to vote as adults, they are automatically registered by the Board of Elections and the normal verification process for all new registered voters will take place at that time, including verification of the student's identification number and address.

A state law approved in 2009 with bipartisan support by the General Assembly created the pre-registration program, which lawmakers said is intended to help prepare students to be informed voters when they reach actual voting age.

Students cannot vote until they reach the legal age of 18, but by getting them to preregister, the program is intended to help them "acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to become responsible and effective citizens in an interdependent world."

Voter registration among young people is lower than for most other age groups. According to Democracy NC, nearly a third of people ages 18-25 are not registered to vote.

Voting is habit-forming says the nonpartisan organization. Teaching 16-year-olds, who are also usually taking their first civics class in high school, to consider their opinions of candidates and issues will help create a better-informed electorate, it says.

When the measure was being pondered in the Legislature it had the support of the state Association of School Boards, as well as legislators on both sides of the aisle.

It was approved in the state House 102-14 and approved by the state Senate by a similarly proportional margin.

The law became effective in 2010.

According to the law, the measure's aim is "to provide for preregistration of qualified individuals who are 16 or 17 years of age and to expand instruction on the importance of voting in the high school social studies curriculum and to encourage local boards of education to promote registration and preregistration of students."

The procedure for registering teens as young as 16 is laid out in the North Carolina General Statues 163-82.23:

"Every public high school shall make available to its students and others who are eligible to register and preregister to vote the application forms described in G.S. 163 -82.3, and shall keep a sufficient supply of the forms so that they are always available. A local board of education may, but is not required to, designate high school employees to assist in completing the forms. Only employees who volunteer for this duty may be designated by boards of education."

The local Board of Elections handles voter registration and preregistration events in all nine Wayne County Public Schools high schools, said Ken Derksen, public information officer.

For several years, the district has worked with the Board of Elections to promote voter awareness through annual events for students who are 18 or will turn 18 by the next election. Since then General Assembly changed the legal age requirement for voter pre-registration and mandated that high schools work to inform 16- and 17-year-old students about pre-registering so they will be ready to vote when they turn 18.

"Government elections and the voting process are key topics in our civics courses," said Joyce Cunningham, the schools' director of social studies. "With the upcoming presidential election creating topics for discussion and activities in other courses as well, these voter registration and pre-registration events further add to the conversations and instruction taking place in the classroom.

"We are very appreciative of the Wayne County Board of Elections for its continued efforts to support our high schools in promoting voter awareness."

Already in the county, Rosewood, Wayne Early/Middle College, Wayne School of Engineering, Eastern Wayne and Southern Wayne high schools have held voter registration events.

Similarly, over the coming week, events will be held at Goldsboro, Charles B. Aycock, Wayne Academy and Spring Creek high schools.