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Guilford County schools earn high marks for helping students register to vote

By Steve Doyle, WGHP-TV | September 19, 2022

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Guilford County Schools performs better than peer districts in North Carolina when meeting the state’s requirement for distributing voting registration information to teenagers.

A survey released today by the Fair Elections Center and The Civics Center, a pair of nonpartisan and nonprofit organizations dedicated to monitoring elections and to ensuring voter registration, found Guilford County to have a commitment to help the county’s 18-year-olds have a higher registration rate than four other large districts in North Carolina and a dozen similar districts in Georgia.

The voting organizations reviewed registration practices in both North Carolina and Georgia, which have similar requirements, to see how well the educational systems were helping young people learn to fulfill their responsibility to vote by first informing them how to register and helping them through the process.

North Carolina has a younger preregistration age (16 to 17 ½), than Georgia, and both states have online registration options. But from June 2018 to June 2022, North Carolina’s registration of 18-year-olds grew by 15%, and Georgia’s declined by 42%.

The report found that 53% of 18-year-olds in Guilford County were in fact registered to vote, largely because the county had rated as “Compliant Plus” in meeting its obligations under state law.

The survey of select school districts in North Carolina and Georgia rated them on four levels: Compliant, Compliant Plus, Partially Compliant, and Lack of Documented Compliance.

To be rated as Compliant Plus, a district must have demonstrated a commitment to going above and beyond the requirements of state law. For example, districts in this category:

  • Conduct more than one voter registration drive during a school year.

  • Communicate voter registration opportunities to the student body through multiple channels.

  • Have multiple school administrators and/or staff members involved in planning and overseeing voter registration drives.

  • Have a policy related to student voter registration.

Compliant districts have at least one registration drive, communicate effectively and have oversight. The others fall just short or “provided no responsive documents or information or such limited information that it was impossible to discern the district’s level of compliance.”

Guilford was matched as “Compliant Plus” by Chatham and Wake counties. Robeson was deemed Compliant, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg was Lack of Documented Compliance.

North Carolina’s requirement

In North Carolina, state statute, adopted in 1975, is specific about what school districts must do.

“Every public high school shall make available to its students and others who are eligible to register to vote the application forms described in G.S. 163-82.3, and shall keep a sufficient supply of the forms so that they are always available. A local board of education may, but is not required to, designate high school employees to assist in completing the forms. Only employees who volunteer for this duty may be designated by boards of education,” the statute says.

Chatham (where 74% of the 18-year-olds are registered), Wake County (67%) and Robeson County (22%) “checked more boxes” in the evaluation than did Guilford County. Charlotte-Mecklenburg also had a higher registration percentage (57%).

But Guilford County got good marks for having multiple voter registration drives each year, for communicating with students and for employing leadership. The only box that wasn’t checked was a specific voter registration policy.

What GCS does

In response to a query from WGHP, Gabby Brown, spokesperson for Guilford County Schools, did cite a school policy that stated the district “pledges to graduate responsible citizens as part of its official mission. Citizenship and civic literacy are part of the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.”

That entry also cited the verbiage in state law, but Brown added additional perspective.

“To comply with state law and support eligible students’ constitutional right to vote, the district’s social studies department facilitates voter registration programs each spring in partnership with You Can Vote,” a statement issued by Brown said. “You Can Vote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate and register voters. GCS high schools also make voter registration forms available in the front office of high schools.

“Lastly, staff may choose to volunteer to support students with the voter registration process.”

Although Brown didn’t mention it, at least some Guilford County schools routinely provided buses on election days to take new voters to the polls.

The key findings

Authors Marina Pino and Vicki Shapiro found that a lack of record-keeping and response in Georgia inhibited their ability to understand the full scope of the lack of registration in the 12 districts surveyed there, many of them surrounding Atlanta and Savannah, and why the numbers had dropped so dramatically.

“The refrain ‘young people don’t vote’ is not true,” Pino and Shapiro wrote in their report. “Young people do vote, at very high rates, when they are registered to vote. But voter registration rates among 18- to 24-year-olds remain far below the rates of older Americans.

“That is not the fault of young people. That is the fault of an American education system that does not teach students when they are eligible to register and how to do it.”

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