Austin students prepare for their next 'big step' as first-time voters ahead of Texas primary
Wearing a green t-shirt with "vote, vote, vote, vote, vote," in big block letters across the front, Susana Carranza stood in front of a 12th-grade social studies class at Anderson High School in northwest Austin.
Carranza is chair of First Vote!, a free program from the League of Women Voters Austin Area that educates high schoolers about voting. The nonpartisan group has been visiting high schools in the Austin area ahead of the Feb. 5 voter registration deadline for the March primary elections to help eligible students register to vote.
The students sat at desks arranged in circles as Carranza started the presentation by telling them their vote matters. Then, she wanted to know what issues are important to them.
“Is there anything you care about or any changes you’d like to see? There’s no wrong answers,” Carranza told the class.
One student joked he wanted the school to offer brisket for lunch. Another said he cared about the homeless population in Austin. A third said women’s health care rights were top of mind, while a fourth said climate change.
Carranza said her goal was for students to understand that whatever they care about, they have a stake in the outcome of elections at all levels of government.
“They are the ones that are stuck with the choices that everybody else is making. They’re going to be stuck for much longer than everybody else,” she said.
Carranza added when people start voting at a young age, they tend to stick with it.
“There’s research that shows if people start voting really young, start participating really young, they’re much more likely to be longtime voters,” she said.
Miles, a senior at Anderson High, said he would like to see more young people vote.
While he won’t be old enough to vote next month in the primaries, he will be 18 in time for the November presidential election.
“I’ve been thinking of it for a while, so it’s just kind of crazy to think it's already happening. Time is going by really quick,” he said.
Sophia is another Anderson High senior who is excited to vote. League of Women Voters volunteers helped her to register to vote at an Alamo Drafthouse as she was leaving the theater with her family.
“My family was like 'they’re here, you’re here, we’re making it happen,'” she said.
Even though she is registered, she said the presentations from the League of Women Voters had a lot of useful information on how to cast a ballot.
“The League of Women Voters coming up and just scooping us and guiding us through is really helpful," she said. "Our parents — it’s not always their priority — they have their own routine for voting, so they’re not always thinking about getting us ready to vote."
Miles and Sophia are among the more than 500 Anderson High seniors the League of Women Voters reached with their presentations on Monday and Tuesday.
Amy Jaggers is the social studies department chair at Anderson High. She pointed out that Texas high schools are required to help eligible students register to vote, though research has found many schools do not comply with this law.
“We have a law here in Texas that states we’re actually obligated to register all seniors here on campus,” she said. “We’ve had the League of Women Voters come in and do this presentation for our students before, and it’s been really well accepted by the students and faculty.”
Anderson High Principal Brian Lancaster said he also thinks schools are supposed to foster civic engagement.
“The idea of helping our students become registered voters and make sure that they’re informed of the processes and make sure they’re informed of elections and things that are honestly going to impact their lives, we feel is one of our biggest obligations,” he said.
Sophia said she is especially aware of the importance of the primaries and election this year.
“I feel like every vote counts so I’m excited to be able to participate,” she said. “I’m excited that my first step is such a big step.”
More information on how to register to vote or check your voter registration can be found at VoteTexas.gov. Teenagers signing up to vote must be 17 years and 10 months old when they submit a voter registration application and 18 years old on Election Day.