If there is one thing America has learned as we travel through our pandemic year of 2020, it’s that our schools are more essential for our nation’s and our personal well being than we could ever have imagined when times were ordinary and kids routinely went off to school. We now know (and most citizens are in awe) of what our teachers give our kids day by day, year in, year out as the children master essential skills of life, from basic reading and math skills to advanced science education, sophisticated problem-solving, analytical reading, a learning of our country’s history and all sorts of other knowledge and praxis. Step by step, teachers and parents, and “the community village” prepare youth to live in the world successfully.
In a democracy, one of the most important reasons we value public education and other kinds of schooling is that broad and deep learning gives young people what they need to know to vote. A democracy depends upon a well educated citizenry.
No rite of passage that seniors in high school pass through is more important to them and to the future of this country than registering to vote. Since all Indiana students are required to take Government their senior year, that course and its teachers impress upon kids the honor and responsibility of being an educated voter.
This year, thanks to a creative adaptation born of the pandemic, the League of Women Voters of Indiana has created a virtual lesson plan that can be delivered by teachers either to students in the classroom or on line. “Time to Vote” (A Virtual Youth Voter Registration Presentation) has been delivered in person to each government teacher in Montgomery County. In the course of a single lesson, “Time to Vote!” engages 12th grade government students (who will, in the main, be 18 years old by Election Day, Nov. 3) in interactive discussion as they learn how voting affects issues they care about. They also learn what happens when people who can vote don’t vote — and how that changes outcomes and silences voices. Superintendents of all three school districts have endorsed the use of this lesson plan.
Historically “Gen Z,” those people who are 18-24 years old, have the lowest percentage of voter turnout in the nation — matched only by those 75 years old and older. Both groups have less than 10% voter turnout rates. While studying “Time to Vote!” students begin to see how this disenfranchises their entire generation. To make this visual, teachers ask everyone in the class to raise his or her hand. Then 1/3 of the class is asked to put their hands down. Then another 1/3. And, then they are told that those with hands still up — will speak for everyone else! How unfair! And, still that number is three times higher than typical Gen Z voting turnouts. This is shocking.
Yet youth overwhelmingly care about the future of democracy — and there is encouraging news on that front. Even during the last few years, youth have become more active in following campaigns, in learning about candidates, and attending rallies, marches, or demonstrations. Democracies succeed when citizens are informed and active about issues that shape their lives.
The teacher then leads students through a series of slides in which they prepare to register to vote.
It is easy to register to vote. Any citizen these days may register using a form from the County Clerk’s office or register online via the VOTE411 platform, or the Indiana Voters website.
Let’s assume that most of you reading this are not Gen Z people. Have you registered to vote? Have you checked your registration status? Have you made a plan to vote for the Nov. 3 election?
In this year of the pandemic, as Indiana is awaiting another surge of COVID-19, nothing is more important than retaining our democratic processes. So please vote. There are three ways to plan your vote:
• You may vote absentee. Please apply for your ballot through the county clerk’s office. Do this now. Ballots will be sent out at the end of the month.
• You may vote in person early. Early voting will take place at two sites in Crawfordsville beginning Oct. 6. Polls will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday Oct. 6-30 at the 4-H Building and between 8 a.m. and noon Nov. 2. Early voting will also take place 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 and 2-7 p.m. Oct. 26-30 at Rock Point Church.
• You may vote in person on Election Day. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the 4-H Building, Rock Point Church, North Montgomery High School and Whitesville Christian Church. Please remember that any registered voter may vote at any polling site.
National Register to Vote Day is Sept. 22. Be a good citizen and check to see if all your family, friends and neighbors who are eligible are registered to vote. And then be sure to vote. It matters to us all.