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School districts recognize progressive Colorado voting laws with a week of awareness


February 5, 2020

As a college graduate, Congressman Joe Neguse founded an organization called New Era Colorado, which strove to amplify voter engagement. In 2013, this group was able to convince the state legislator to pass a law to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. Arguably thanks to this law, 60% of young Colorado voters participated in elections compared to only 30% nationwide.

Moreover, thanks to recent changes to legislation, not only are 16 and 17-year-olds able to register, but if a student will turn 18 by the time of the general election, that student may vote in primary elections before turning 18. This law puts Colorado ahead of about half the country in terms of progressive voting laws. As of now, only about 22 states allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primaries, but it is important to recognize that these laws vary state-by-state. However, until a teenager goes to get a driver's license, or unless they have proactive teachers or even an interest in politics themselves, many are unaware of these laws. That is, until recently.

At its January 22 meeting, St. Vrain Valley's Board of Education decided to proclaim Feb. 3 through Feb. 7 Voter Registration Awareness Week. "We fully support initiatives that encourage our students to participate in the most basic fundamental right of democracies: voting," said Niwot High School Principal Eric Rauschkolb. "Not only is it important for students to understand that their voices matter, but it is crucial that they understand that their willingness to participate in this process will help shape their local communities, their state, and the entire country."

The Boulder Valley School District has elected to celebrate this week as well.

To recognize the new week, there will be announcements as well as posters about voter registration and schools will have registration available via either booths or events. Additionally, each school in both districts has been asked to designate a staff member as a "Voter Registration Liaison." These liaisons will be trained in how registration works, act as a resource to both students and staff, and in NHS teacher Clark Burton's case, go to individual classrooms to discuss it as well.

"[Having this week to recognize voter registration] makes it so there's something tangible for students to do when we talk about voter efficacy or voter registration," Burton explained. "Now we can say, 'Hey, here's why it's important, let's fill it out together.' It's not this abstract thing they have to do later."

In speaking with Burton, Rauschkolb, and a Niwot student, it is clear that the importance of voting has been reinforced at NHS, at least in certain classes. Additionally, accessibility to voting was a theme important to all.

"I think accessibility to voting is a super important thing," said Speech and Debate Captain Nicholas Valin, a senior at NHS. "I think getting as many people to vote as possible is important." While the pre-registration and the law for 17-year-old voters in the primaries doesn't affect him personally, he recognized its importance.

He explained that Colorado had the second-highest rate for voter turnout nationwide in the 2018 elections. So while he believes that some claims around voter turnout being low may have some research to back them up, saying that isn't the way to get people to go out and vote. "[Having the pre-registration and other law] is a really good step in the right direction, especially since the younger generations tend to be lower [in turnout rates]."

Burton picked up on Valin's observation by noting that the way we vote as a nation is unfair. "It's disproportionately targeted toward older people. Tuesday midday makes it more challenging for people to go vote. That's why I think Colorado's done a really good job with early voting and mail-in voting because it gives people more time to research and vote. The sooner people start voting and make it a habit, the better voter turnout we'll get."

This belief has been shared on a number of occasions, even in an interview with CBS 4. Congressman Neguse said, "Empirical studies show that they [youth] are more likely to vote for the rest of their lives if they pre-register to vote."

"The kids do care and have really well-thought out ideas and the policies that are voted for [now] are going to impact them long after us older people," said Burton.

His optimism is certainly in the right place. He said that many NHS's students are already involved and that next week will simply provide more resources for that involvement to increase.

"I'm most excited to finally have an influence on things that actually affect me," Valin said. "I'm excited to be an informed voter."


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