Texas High Schools Are Supposed to Help Students Register to Vote, But Most Principals Are Breaking That Law

Texas has an awesome law compelling high schools to hand out voter registration forms to all soon-to-be 18-year-olds. Presumably, that would mean a higher percentage of young people are registered to vote in the state, but that isn’t the case for one frustrating reason: most schools are ignoring the law!

THE DATA

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) conducted a study and found that only 37 percent of high schools passed out voter registration forms to their students on at least a biannual basis. Although the secretary of state provides these forms to schools, just 28 percent of high schools took advantage of this service. (Some additional schools obtained forms through their own means, which is also acceptable.)

Accordingly, over 180,000 high school seniors each year were missing out on this fairly simple way to register to vote.

WHY IT MATTERS

Texas is 47th in the nation when it comes to voter participation, so the state should be making deliberate efforts to engage more citizens. Granted, it’s still on these teenagers to show up to the polls, but getting them registered is the first step.

Moreover, high schools exist not just to educate, but also to prepare students for adult life. There shouldn’t need to be a law for schools to set up kids to be good citizens who participate in the democratic process – it just makes sense!

THE LAW’S HISTORY

Back in 1983, Paul Ragsdale, a state legislator, introduced a bill obliging all high school principals to provide voter forms to all kids approaching voting age at least twice a year. It passed with bipartisan support since it’s not (or at least shouldn’t be) controversial.

Perhaps because it seemed so uncontroversial, the law didn’t bother to established repercussions for principals who didn’t follow the fairly stipulation. Accordingly, there’s no real disincentive for schools that choose to make no or little effort at registering student voters.

Five years ago, TCRP conducted similar research and alerted schools and the media that most schools and counties weren’t doing their due diligence to help register senior students. Since then, the rate of participation has only improved minimally.

WHY ARE PRINCIPALS AVOIDING REGISTRATION EFFORTS?

While the lack in school participation could be chalked up to disorganization or obliviousness, something more sinister could also be afoot. Young people are famously more liberal than their elders – and yes, that’s true even in a red state like Texas – so some authority figures might not want to see a surge in student participation. Given that Texas is the second-youngest state in the nation, if you register enough people below 30, that would probably be the best way to flip the state to blue.

To add to that theory, Texas is getting increasingly less white. In fact, two-thirds of Texans under the age of 20 are people of color. Could it be that the powers-that-be are afraid that registering these kids would more swiftly shift power away from the white, male and middle-aged legislators that have controlled the state pretty much forever?

THERE’S HOPE, THOUGH

Since efforts to motivate principals have failed, Secretary of State Rolando Pablos took a new approach: contacting superintendents. He’s pleased with the positive response he’s gotten from the principals’ bosses, getting over 140 superintendents to sign a pledge soon within a matter of days.

The law is worth keeping – and following, for that matter. Let’s give teenagers the tools to become good citizens.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

67 comments

Camilla V
Camilla Vaga2 months ago

thx

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Kathy G
Kathy G3 months ago

Thank you

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Kathy G
Kathy G3 months ago

Thank you

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Adele E Zimmermann
Adele E Zimmermann3 months ago

Principals who fail to comply with this law are violating their students' constitutional right to vote and should be prosecuted accordingly.

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Paul B
Paul B3 months ago

As long as you can insure that only legal residents are registered, I think it is a good idea. You think it is a good idea now, but if the tide of younger people turns conservative, you will be the first to say this is illegal activity, just like you do every time one of your "wants" turns out not to benefit you any longer.
Leanne K. If voting were compulsory, I think you would find it difficult for a Dem to ever win the WH again.

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell3 months ago

noted

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell3 months ago

noted

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Winn A
Winn Adams3 months ago

I sincerely hope those that can register will register despite what principals may or may not be doing.

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Winn A
Winn Adams3 months ago

Thanks

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Carole R
Carole R3 months ago

They need to get their act together.

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