High School Students to Be Registered in Class by New Bill Introduced in NYC Council

New York, NY – High School students in public and private schools will be required to receive voter registration forms during class under new legislation that would improve upon the decade-long-unenforced Young Adult Voter Registration Act (YAVRA), if Council Members Ben Kallos, Helen Rosenthal and Fernando Cabrera have a say.

YAVRA, a 2004 law, only requires that the registration forms be made available and sent along with high school diplomas. Yet with no tracking or reporting, good government advocates suspect that that it has long gone unenforced.

In 2012, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Demos, NYPIRG and the Women's City Club of New York sent a letter to then-Chancellor Wolcott inquiring about enforcement of the 2004 YAVRA. The Department of Education replied that individual schools were responsible for distribution of the forms with little oversight.

That year, then-candidate Ben Kallos, began surveying high schools throughout New York City and independently delivering voter registration forms to schools that did not have them to make available. The legislation creates a new mandate to distribute voter registration forms to students in class instead of simply making them available and mailing them with diplomas.  It would require the Board of Elections to provide coded voter registration forms to public and private schools to improve tracking of the form distribution.  Additionally, the Department of Education would be required to report annually to the Council on their efforts to comply with the law from borough to school level, with details including the number of eligible students, the number of forms distributed by language, and the number completed and returned.

In 2014, Council Members Kallos and Dromm asked the Department of Education to implement a “Citywide Senior Year Voter Registration Pilot” and will continue to advocate for such a day to be implemented as part of the distribution of voter registration forms.  

According to the School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot for school year 2013-14, there are 73,790 high school seniors. If they were all registered along with their soon to be graduating peers 327,537 public school graduates would be eligible to vote in 2017, the next municipal election. By 2021, public school graduates eligible to vote would grow to 630,166 which would mean nearly as many 18 to 26 year old public school graduates would be eligible to vote as voted for mayor in the 2013 election.

"Voting and civic engagement must be a part of every child’s education so that they can grow up to become active participants in their democracy. After a decade, it is finally time to ensure that the Young Adult Voter Registration Act," said Council Member Ben Kallos. “New York State ranks last among states for voting, but registering high school seniors can reverse that trend with a new generation empowered take back democracy.”

"The rate of young adult voters is shamefully low. The first step towards turning that around is to get young adults registered. These changes to the Young Adult Voter Registration Act will help us determine which schools are successfully registering graduating students and which need additional support. This is an important step towards the goal of better civic engagement for our youth." Said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan)

“Citizens Union supports offering youth greater opportunities to register to vote. The Young Adult Voter Registration Act offers a simple yet innovative way to expand enfranchisement to New York City’s young adults. Providing forms in schools signals to young people that registering to vote is an important civic responsibility to exercise.  It encourages active citizenship early in life which positively impacts the civic health of our city," said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

“Ample research shows that when people start voting at a young age, they become lifelong voters. This worthy bill expands the city’s approach to youth voter registration, putting welcome emphasis on transparency and reporting to gauge the effectiveness of the program," said Lauren George of Common Cause NY.

Council Member Kallos has sponsored a series of bills designed to increase participation and make it easier for New Yorkers to vote, including an Agency-Based Voter Registration Bill that became law last year.