(Dec. 5, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with Beth Tudan, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area for a discussion focusing on voter registration and voter education.
Several years ago, Beth realized that there was a wide disparity regarding how students were being taught about voter registration throughout Fairfax County. This was brought to her attention when her own son was in high school, and she learned that not all students were getting equal access to education and assistance about the voter registration process. After learning in 2016 that only 1600 out of approximately 13,000 senior students were registered to vote, she embarked on a mission to change the paradigm.
Together with the FCPS school system; the League of Women Voters sponsored a voter registration challenge. Understanding that not all students are able to register to vote, they adjusted eligible student numbers for each high school, and came up with realistic goals based on the school population. By the end of the challenge, they had boosted registration up to approximately 5,000 students countywide. Last year, Hayfield Secondary School took the prize, under the enthusiastic direction of Doug Ziwall. The League will again sponsor the challenge for the 2018-2019 school year and are looking to improve on last year’s success.
In addition, the LWV created a non-partisan lesson plan that they use to emphasize the importance of voting, and the responsibilities of being a citizen in a democracy. Tudan and her volunteers use interactive exercises to demonstrate why students should not let others decide about public policy on their behalf. In Virginia, citizens do not register by party, so voters can decide which primary that they will participate in year by year. This training is now being shared with Leagues throughout the state, which will hopefully boost voter registration throughout the Commonwealth.
The class also informs students how they can vote absentee once they go off to college, as well as how to find information about candidates, and locate their polling place. The goal is to give students the tools that they need to be able to actively participate in the democratic process as well as develop a habit of voting. Tudan notes that the wonderful thing about the Commonwealth of Virginia is that elections are held every year, so the students will always have a reason to go to the polls the same year that they register.
Each high school is required to offer voter registration opportunities to students three times a year. Tudan has worked with volunteers at the LWV to ensure that every school that requests a visit can be covered. In Virginia, there are only three organizations that are authorized to visit schools regarding voter registration. They are the League of Women Voters, Aspire Virginia and the Board of Elections.
The LWV regularly works with students who are looking to fulfill the requirement of service hours for graduation. She has opportunities for students to research candidates (in a non-partisan fashion), help organize candidate forums, and manage social media posts with tips and information for voters. Please reach out to Beth via email if you are student and you are interested in getting involved.
Tudan points out that this is a big year for Virginia, as every seat in the General Assembly (100 House seats and 40 Senate seats) will be up for grabs. Additionally, elections will be held at the municipal level, as well as at the county level for the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. Visit the League’s website for more information about voting and candidates in the Fairfax County area.