Kristen Chambers and Etta Zasloff

Kristen Chambers and Etta Zasloff, in Mr. Peters AP US History Class at Chariho High School.

Historically, young people have voted at lower rates than other Rhode Islanders. In an effort to boost those voting numbers, The League of Women Voters of South County launched a ground-breaking voter registration initiative at Chariho High School in March 2022.

Overall, voter registration in the three towns that comprise the Chariho Regional School District is high - more than 90%, but in the 2020 election, only 28% of Rhode Island’s 18 to 19-year-old residents voted. The League sees this low turnout of younger voters as evidence that we don’t automatically become engaged, informed and empowered to participate in our democracy when we turn 18.

While young people begin to understand and experience democracy well before they reach voting age, they may or may not get practical information about how, where, and when to vote when it is time. Many first-time voters rely on family to help them navigate the voting process, but some lack that support system.

Two members of the League of Women Voters South County delivered that practical information about the registration and voting process to juniors and seniors at Chariho High School. Etta Zasloff and Kristen Chambers visited 14 US History classes on March 2 & 3 with the message “Your vote counts, but only if you cast it.” The event was coordinated at the High School by Robert Whittaker, Social Studies Department Chair.

The 15-minute presentation showed students how to navigate the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s website and access information on voter registration and pre-registration.

Students 16 and older are eligible to register, and most do when they apply for a driver’s license. However, many were unclear about their registration status and welcomed the chance to learn how to verify that they were on the voters’ list. Some 16 year-old students who were not yet drivers were able to register in about two minutes.

The goal of the collaborative project to engage young voters goes beyond lesson plans on elections and voting, encouraging life-long voting habits and civic engagement on many levels. For more information on bringing this free program to your high school, contact zasloff.etta@gmail.com.

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