Is Voter Registration a Thing for Atlanta-area High Schools? The Answers Are In.

  |  Topic: Education, News, Politics, Q & A
By Maya Martin

In part 1 of this story, we found that there’s a little-known law, OCGA 21-2-215 (g), which requires public and private high schools and universities in Georgia to receive “voter registration applications from those qualified applicants who are enrolled students […and employees].” The law states that schools also have the option to invite other deputy registrars to register students, such as the New Georgia Project, but school personnel must “receive annual training by the board of registrars of the county in which such deputy registrar shall work.”

If you haven’t heard part 1, you should totally go back here to listen. We ended that audio snippet with a simple question: Are Atlanta-area schools following the rules? Here are your answers.

Getting in touch with high schools

Since most of VOX ATL’s audience are currently high school students, I decided to start there. I looked at Atlanta City Schools and Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb, and DeKalb County Schools, as well as 31 private schools in the metro-Atlanta area. I reached out via email and phone and contact forms on the district websites, usually targeting social studies teachers, assistant principals, and guidance counselors I found in the school directories. When that didn’t work, I conducted site searches on the school websites so Google would spider its way through the indexes for the terms “vote,” “register to vote,” or “voter registration.” Each public school district included here had at least 22 days to respond, and each individual private school had at least four days to respond.

Of the five public school districts I contacted, all but DeKalb County Schools got back to me with answers. I sent a message through DeKalb’s contact form a couple of times and tried to call, but the number listed for the district seemed to be disconnected. However, through site searches, I found that among about 20 public high schools in the district, Dunwoody and Tucker High School had advertised voter registration drives on their websites.

Out of the four public school districts that responded, all but Cobb enforced voter registration at schools on the district level. For Cobb County Schools, whether voter registration was available to students varied from school to school.  Site searches and emails with faculty members confirm that Cobb Horizon, South Cobb, Campbell, Pope, Sprayberry, and Walton High Schools do provide the opportunity to register to vote. Allatoona, Harrison, Hillgrove, Kell, Kennesaw Mountain, Lassiter, McEachern, North Cobb, Osborne, Pebblebrook, and Wheeler High Schools do not advertise registration drives on their websites and have not responded to emails.

Clayton County Public Schools was the only district to provide numbers of voters registered through the school system.

Atlanta-area private schools only had four days to respond, so VOX will continue to update this page with their answers. Of the 10 private schools that did respond by publication date, four (Bright Futures Academy, Galloway School, Woodward School and Walker School) confirmed that they provided voter registration; five schools (Weber School, Lovett School, Eagles Landing High School, Atlanta International School and Holy Innocents High School) confirmed that they did not, and one school (Pace Academy) did not host registration drives but linked to the page where students could register to vote on their website.

Four districts replied: “Yes, we do, in fact, register our students to vote.”

The unedited email responses to interview questions from Atlanta, Gwinnett, Clayton, and Cobb County public school systems can be found below.

Atlanta Public Schools — responses from Seth Coleman, media relations manager:

Is voter registration offered to students 17 and one-half years old and older at the Atlanta Public Schools?

Yes. All of our high schools, as well as our programs for high school students, work with local organizations to ensure students are able to register as soon as they are eligible.

What does that process look like for each school?

Processes vary based on schools and their relationship with outside organizations. Essentially, students are informed of voter registration opportunities within the school when they arise, and school personnel work to ensure students have access to the opportunities. Schools typically use common times (such as lunch time) for organizations to work with students to get them registered.

How do the students find out about voter registration opportunities?

The manner in which students are informed varies. However, schools make multiple announcements — electronic (text messages, social media, etc.) and onsite (morning and afternoon announcements, flyers, etc.). Also, teachers, counselors and other school personnel help get the word out to students.  Attached to this email are flyers that were distributed to students at West End Academy.

How many students were registered to vote at each APS school for the 2017-2018 school year?

We do not have that information at this time. We will share it with you when it becomes available. However, all eligible students were educated on voter registration opportunities and given the opportunity to do so.

Gwinnett County Public Schools — responses by Bernard Watson, director of community relations:

Is voter registration offered to students 17 and one-half years old and older at Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS)?

Yes. Every April our schools host voter registration drives for students who are 17 & 1/2.

What does that process look like for each school?

All Gwinnett County Public Schools have at least one person trained as “Deputy Registrars for the purpose of elections,” but 98% of our schools have two people who are trained. How schools execute voter registration drives varies, but many schools elect to set up a voter registration table during lunch hours.

How do the students find out about voter registration opportunities?

How voter registration information is communicated to students varies by school, but in-school announcements, newsletters, and posted signs are just a few of the methods used.

How many students were registered to vote at each GCPS school for the 2017-2018 school year?

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections and Registration is responsible for collecting and overseeing voter registration data, GCPS is not.

Do you have any upcoming voter registration events?

Every April our schools host voter registration drives for students who are 17 & 1/2. Individual schools may host additional events throughout the year if they choose.

Clayton County Public Schools — completed by Regina Wallace, K-12 social studies coordinator:

Is voter registration offered to eligible students in the Clayton County school district?

Yes, voter registration is offered to eligible students within Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS).  As an example, goal one of CCPS’ Department of Social Studies is to promote civic responsibility and active civic participation. This goal is achieved through our districtwide voter registration initiative. Clayton County Public Schools offers voter registration to all students who are 17.5 years old or older. Each year the Department of Social Studies, under the leadership of Regina Wallace, K-12 Social Studies Coordinator and Rhonda Love, K-12 Social Studies Lead Teacher, conducts a Fall Voter Registration Initiative as well as a Spring Voter Registration Initiative at each high school in the district. The times for the voter registration initiative vary based on current local, state, and national elections.

What does that process look like for each school?

Clayton County Public Schools has partnered with the Clayton County Office of Elections and Registration to support our annual voter registration initiative. Director, Shauna Dozier and her team met with select social studies teachers from our district to complete the deputation/ orientation process. From there, those teachers confirm with their administration the days/ times that registration will take place, the locked location where forms will be stored, and who will be responsible for submitting forms to central office by the deadline. For example, registration efforts tend to take place during lunch and/ or Economics classes, which is a senior level course. Schools are provided a list of students that are eligible to vote so that registration efforts are targeted. Students are then offered the opportunity to complete the registration form with the support from their deputized teacher. Once schools have submitted the completed forms, the forms are transported to the Clayton County Office of Elections by the CCPS Department of Social Studies.

How many students were registered to vote at each school for the 2017-2018 school year?

During the 2017-2018 school year, Clayton County Public Schools registered over 560 eligible students. We have currently registered over 420 eligible students prior to the upcoming November Primary Elections.  

Are there any upcoming voter registration events?

In preparation for the November 6, 2018 Midterm Election, Clayton County Public Schools has implemented a Civic Engagement initiative that includes a focus on voting. In keeping with our voter registration annual plans, students were provided with an opportunity to register to vote during the month of September and early October. In addition, CCPS has partnered with The People’s Agenda to provide all voting age high school students with education centered around the voting process. Topics of discussion included how to research candidates, bills, amendments, and referendums that will be on the ballot, proper forms of identification necessary for voting, voting etiquette, registration status, and current issues impacting their community. We also provided sample ballots as a resource for students to be familiar about what to expect when casting their votes. As a culminating task, all CCPS high schools traveled to the Old Historic Courthouse in Jonesboro where they were greeted by local government officials and provided an opportunity to tour and ask questions of each department. Students also had an opportunity to speak with representatives from the Clayton County Office of Elections, Office of Community Development, and the Communications Department to learn the functions of each department and how they can support students with civic engagement.

Photo:
From CCPS’ Regina Wallace: The picture depicts students from Martha E. Stilwell School of the Arts in the lobby of the Historic Clayton County Courthouse, filling out applications to be student poll workers for the Nov. 6 election. Photo by Ronald Shields, courtesy of Clayton County Public School Department of Communications, Public Relations & Marketing.

Maya, 18, is a journalist with VOX ATL and an intern for the Partnership Against Domestic Violence and the Georgia Muslim Voter Project. All the nonprofits, y’all.  

Note: This writer is not apolitical but is involved in voter registration work through the Georgia Muslim Voter Project.

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