Every Year is an Election Year

It's amazing how much power elected officials have over our day-to-day lives. The cost of public college. The supply of affordable housing. Access to public transportation. How much to spend and where, and which laws should exist.

Are your elected officials living up to your expectations?

In New York State you can vote if you have a misdemeanor, if you were convicted of a felony and have finished your parole, or if you are homeless. You can vote using your dorm room address. But you have to register to vote first, twenty-five days before the election you want to vote in.

Remarkably, only a handful of New Yorkers turn out to vote. Many of our city and state elected officials were voted into office by a fraction of registered voters. In the 2014 mid-term elections, New York State ranked fourth-lowest in the nation in voter turnout, despite having the Governor, twenty-seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and several other elected officials on the ballot. The 2013 election for the Mayor and all New York City Council Members had the lowest voter turnout in the City since the 1950s.

New Yorkers are not voting in presidential elections either. In the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections, New York State ranked in the bottom ten in voter turnout.

Last March our three organizations -- NYC Votes, the Office of Council Member Helen Rosenthal, and the New York Immigration Coalition -- coordinated a pilot program, Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD), which brought civic education to roughly 3,000 students and registered over 2,000 students to vote in twenty-five schools across the City.

On Friday, March 18, SVRD will reach over 20,000 high school seniors. Community-based organizations will speak to students at fifty-six schools about the importance of voting and civic engagement. They'll highlight the issues that impact student's daily lives that are determined by city- and state-level elected officials, like getting resources for their schools, finding a decent paying job, or affording a college education.

Once people start voting, they are very likely to become regular voters. That's good news for young voters in New York City, since we will be voting four times in 2016. For students who have recently become U.S citizens, it is even more vital that we encourage them to register to vote for themselvse and for their families.

We owe it to our young adults to do more to prepare them for life as engaged citizens. That is why this day of student outreach is so important. And it's not just for U.S citizens; with a large percentage of immigrant students in New York City's schools, SVRD also engages young people beyond the voting booth, urging them to get involved in their communities, join community boards, and have a say in participatory budgeting processes.

Programs like Student Voter Registration Day should happen every year in every school across the city and the state. Every year is an election year. Our schools offer the best opportunity to prepare young voters to be fully engaged citizens. Indeed, building responsible citizens was the original driving force behind the creation of our public schools.

But we also must realize that fixing our voter participation crisis cannot be done in just one day. We need to invest more resources, in our schools and beyond their walls, in civic education. Let's recommit ourselves to that work, starting now.