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ICYMI: U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson Introduce High School Voter Empowerment Act to Boost Youth Voter Registration with High Schoolers’ Support

Tuesday, Congresswoman Wilson, alongside U.S. Senator Butler and many students, introduced the High School Voter Empowerment Act, which would boost civic engagement and increase voter registration among young people. This bill does that by adding public high schools as voter registration sites, increasing student voter participation and federal grant eligibility. A livestream of the press conference can be found here.

“My generation does not have all the answers, and it's critical for the future of our democracy that we empower our youth and give them the resources they need to raise their voices,” said Representative Wilson. “Elections are the bedrock of our democracy. I learned that when I was a child because my father was a civil rights leader in Miami-Dade County, and even when the Ku Klux Klan threatened our family, he persisted.”

“One of the greatest barriers to voting is access to the ballot box,” said Senator Butler. “The High School Voter Empowerment Act would get students going to the ballot box by allowing them to register to vote on-site at their high school.”

Congresswoman Wilson and Senator Butler were joined by the leaders of the ‘Centre for Voters Initiative & Action,’ a national coalition of 800+ high schoolers across the nation seeking to increase civic engagement among young people.

“The Centre applauds the support of Senator Laphonza Butler and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to champion efforts for civic engagement amongst the youth. It is only possible to achieve true change through persistent, meaningful, dialogue. Senior staff member Vedansh Garg recalls having had to ‘often leave school early to advocate in Washington to fight for the possibility of [students] to have a seat at the table through electoral education’. Garg has missed over ten days of school fighting to advocate for the bill, and commends ‘Congressional leaders for taking action to ensure the next generation’s civic education be one to open doors to equality, stability, and happiness.’” - The Voters Initiative.

The High School Voter Empowerment Act would:

  • Instruct schools to conduct voter registration drives for their students
  • Allow high schools to work with state election officials to use voting machines to conduct student council or other student government elections
  • Direct the Secretary of Education to make grants to reimburse schools for the costs of carrying out a voter registration drive

The bill text can be found here. Bill endorsements include the Common Cause (National), California Common Cause, ACLU (National), A. Philip Randolph Institute, End Citizens United, Let America Vote Action Fund, NAACP, National Women’s Political Caucus, National Council of Negro Women, National Council of Jewish Women, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, NextGen America, Progressive Turnout Project, Voters of Tomorrow, The Voters Initiative, The Workers Circle, High School Democrats of America, and more.

The High School Voter Empowerment Act is co-sponsored by Senators: Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

In the House of Representatives, it is cosponsored by Maxwell Frost, Jamie Raskin, Earl Blumenauer, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Raul Grijalva, Ilhan Omar, Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Shelia Jackson Lee, James Clyburn, Jamaal Bowman, Terri Sewall, Darren Soto, Pramila Jayapal, Shontel Brown, Barbara Lee, and Joe Neguse.

Efforts such as college campus voter registration drives already increase access for young people to register to vote. Expanding this effort to high schools would empower students to make voting an established rite of passage in civic life and ensure that young people who choose not to attend college also have ample opportunities to register to vote. 

In 2020, roughly half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the presidential election. While voter participation among this demographic was up compared to 2016, younger voters are still disproportionally less likely than older age groups to participate in elections. Low participation from younger voters is in part due to challenges accessing the ballot box, including registering to vote—younger voters often have less flexible school and employment schedules or lack the financial means to take time off from work

“Young voters and first-time voters often face unnecessary obstacles that stifle their voices at the ballot box,” said Senator Booker. “Educating high school students about civic engagement and designating high schools as voter registration sites will help young people exercise the right to vote and realize the power they hold to shift our nation’s future.”

“Voting is an essential pillar of democracy, but it’s also a learned skill,” said Senator Cardin. “The more we can do to promote the importance of voting among young voters, the more we do to support a thriving and long-lasting democracy. Our nation depends on it.”

“Voting is an important habit that we need to instill in the next generation, and schools, which are becoming increasingly more important as a community resource throughout the United States, should play a role in promoting civic engagement among our youth,” said Senator Hirono. “I’m proud to introduce the High School Voter Empowerment Act of 2024, legislation that would make it easier for young people to register to vote by supporting public high schools in conducting annual voter-registration drives. This bill will encourage young people and communities to participate in our democracy.” 

“Protecting the ability of all eligible voters to participate in our political process is fundamental to upholding a functioning democracy,” said Senator Padilla. “As California’s former Secretary of State, I know firsthand the importance of mobilizing young people and making voter registration a convenient, accessible process for them. We must instill a sense of civic responsibility in our next generation and uplift the role they play in determining the direction of our nation’s future.”

“We know that Gen-Z is the most politically active generation in the history of our country,” Congressman Maxwell Frost said. “Look no further than protests, direct action, but also at the ballot box. In 2020, we had the highest youth voter turnout in the history of this country for a general election.”

“I always remind folks when it comes to power in this country, the vote levels the playing field. Whether you are Black, White, rich, poor, gay, straight, Democrat or Republican, from GED to PhD, everyone gets one vote,” Congresswoman Shontel Brown said. “So we have to make sure everyone has access to this one vote.”

“I was somebody who started participating in our democracy at the age of 14 when I took my grandfather to caucuses in Minnesota,” Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said. “When I first ran for office in 2016, we increased voter turnout for people between the ages of 22 and 18 by 37%, and we did that by inviting young people to get involved, making it accessible for them.”

“Our country is only improved by increased access to voting and ideas, particularly important to the nearly 700,000 residents of our nation’s capital who elected me to serve as their sole voice the federal legislature,” Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said.

“I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and Senator Laphonza Butler for leading the effort to introduce this very important legislation,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee said. As my dear friend and colleague Congressman John Lewis said: “the right to vote is precious, almost sacred.” Our democracy is under attack.  From coast to coast, extremists are trying to turn back the clock and make it harder for voters to make their voices heard. Now more than ever, we must expand access to the right to vote. We owe it to young people to invest in voter registration agencies and ease the burden of access. Empowering the next generation of leaders to make their voices heard at the ballot box is a bold and necessary step in securing our democracy. Thank you all for being here and lending your time and energy to this effort. Keep up the great work.”

“The future of our democracy lies in the hands of today’s youth. It is our collective duty to foster a culture of civic participation among young people and eliminate the barriers they face in exercising their constitutional right to vote,” said Xavier Persad, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The High School Voter Empowerment Act would do just that by requiring and funding regular voter registration opportunities for eligible young voters where they attend school, and encouraging partnerships between schools and state officials that help instill a culture of civic participation. Our democracy is at its best and strongest when everyone — including eligible young people — is empowered to vote and play a part in shaping our collective future." 

“The High School Voter Empowerment Act is a necessary piece of legislation that will propel our democracy forward and will engage young women and men of voting age in our election process. Designating public high schools as voter registration sites will help emphasize the vital role every American plays in the election of our government officials,” said Shavon Arline-Bradley, President and CEO of NCNW. “Voting is our civic duty and fundamental right, a right that many have fought, bled and died for so that our voices could be heard through our vote. With this in mind, NCNW will continue to support policies similar to this bill that elevate the process of civic participation.”