Encouraging young voters

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By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo by Vince Payne
Matt O’Hearn teaching an AP government class.

Getting out the vote takes on great importance during any election, but during a presidential election, the push is even stronger, including drives for newly minted 18-year-olds voters like those at Hamilton Township High School.

Voter registration documents are available at the high school and in a normal, non-pandemic year, social studies teacher and Dean of Students Matt O’Hearn visits advisory classrooms to discuss voting registration and Youth at the Booth opportunities.

“I have forms I keep in my classroom as well as forms in the main office,” said O’Hearn. “There always tends to be a stronger focus on voter registration at the beginning of the school year with an upcoming November election and in the springtime prior to any elections in May.” We tend to focus on in-person voting due to the Youth at the Booth program and the proximity students typically have to their voting precinct on election day.”

High school Principal Robert Lanthorn said the district has registered students to vote for a long time and uses various methods including setting up a voter registration table in the cafeteria, placing voter registration forms in student diploma packets on graduation day and supplying a secure place for students to drop completed forms that are submitted by us following legal protocol.

“Registering to vote is a foundation of civic education and at Hamilton Township High School we are rooted in civic education,” said Lanthorn. “Building a powerful democracy starts with empowering young voters, and voter registration is critical to spurring young people to get and stay involved.”

Lanthorn said a lack of participation in the electoral process deprives individuals and communities of voice and representation and low youth voter turnout does not have to be inevitable, but there is work to be done.

“Hamilton Township High School is doing the work,” said Lanthorn. “Many of our young people report that if it weren’t for our efforts they would lack access to information about the registration and voting process that would empower them to become engaged.”

O’Hearn said he discusses absentee voting with students who are eligible to vote and believes civic engagement is one of the most important ideas students can learn at Hamilton Township.

“Without effective citizenship which includes skills, actions, knowledge, and attitude our democracy will not reach its full potential,” said O’Hearn. “I do think there is more interest during a presidential election. However, most of our student body is still under the age of 18 during a November election.”

During a normal, non-pandemic school year, teachers conduct a mock election at the high school, middle school, and intermediate school. Votes are tallied and results are compared and contrasted with general election results.

Civics is one of the focal points in the high school social studies department. In American government class, students begin the year by studying the duties, rights, and responsibilities of American citizenship, including voting.

“The topic of voting is integrated throughout the school year,” said O’Hearn. “Voting is consistently reinforced in our studies of the U.S. Constitution including the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments.”

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