The League of Women Voters of the Kalamazoo Area’s Young Adult Voter Education Project helps local high school juniors and seniors better understand the voting process and their roles as citizens. Through the project’s success in encouraging and enabling informed, active student participation the League won the 2014 Strengthening Democracy Award. The LWV of Kalamazoo Area educates students about reasons to vote and the voting process itself, including registering, learning about the issues, and casting a ballot. League members also familiarized students with League resources including VOTE411.org.
Paula Manley, the League’s Co-President, explained that the project’s success was a result of their early and effective organizing. The League established its partnerships, then contacted school superintendents. The superintendents brought principals on board, and from there communicated with teachers, administrators, and staff. This strategy ensured that the implementation of the program proceeded smoothly.
To engage students deeply with the material, the project included hands-on interactions with voting equipment, in addition to presentations and introductions to voting resources. Eighteen-year-old students were able to register to vote and all of the students participated in mock elections using real voting machines and ballots. Officials from the City and County Clerk’s offices also trained fifty students to serve as paid poll workers on Election Day. Tangible information and exercises involving active participation made the voting process interesting and exciting for students and rewarding for League members.
The success of the project extended beyond helping young voters and students understand the voting process. Teachers from schools in the area that did not participate asked to use the project’s materials in their classrooms. The Clerk’s offices not only trained poll workers, but were also able to test their voting machines before the election. Furthermore, the League gained recognition in the local community, and the community gained a comprehensive look at the League’s work. Students took voter guides and VOTE411 information home to their families and shared what they learned with their parents. The Kalamazoo Gazette ran a story about the program, as did the school newsletter. The Young Voter Education Project was a success not just for the League, but for the Kalamazoo Area community as well.