Students at Sanford H. Calhoun High School took part in a voter registration event on Jan. 18, organized by the school’s Racial Equity Club, in honor of the Week of Service the district celebrates to accompany Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
With voting requirements in New York state allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register, 30 Calhoun students are now registered future voters, and will look forward to casting their first ballots when they turn 18.
Founded in 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, the Racial Equity Club strives to give all students a voice, and a safe space to discuss justice-related topics.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is observed on the third Monday in January. In schools, classes and student clubs implement lessons and programs centered on King’s work in the civil rights movement. And last week, Racial Equity Club members decided that the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District’s MLK Week of Service was the perfect opportunity to register young voters.
“A lot of people decided to maneuver themselves away from discussing politics and partaking in it,” Nickolas Mascary, an officer of the club, said. “We didn’t see a lot of students registering. So we were, like, let’s have this voter registration drive. Let’s get this done. And it was just such a great opportunity.”
The club partnered with the Civics Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to integrate voter registration into high schools across the U.S. The center urges students to get involved in politics and government, no matter what issues they care about.
The organization provides free training and resources to students and educators who want to host student-led voter registration events, and provides them with a “Democracy in a Box” toolkit to run the drive. The Calhoun club was provided with a special clipboard, “I Registered to Vote” stickers, pins, and an “I Vote Because…” poster, on which, by way of Post-it notes, students shared why they registered — or why they vote if they’re 18 or older.
“I was really trying to encourage people,” said Ayana Mascary, Nickolas’s twin sister and another member of the Racial Equity Club, who helped run the voter registration table. “If we’re able to do this again, I feel like we’ll be able to get more people to register next time and create a more lasting impact.”
Across the nation, 50 percent of teenagers live in states where they can register to vote at 16, according to data from the Civics Center. But few school districts have voter registration programs — which means that youth are not given the tools, including a meaningful civics education, to register, or to understand why registration and voting are important.
The Civics Center argues that teens and young adults do care about politics, and that registration programs in high schools are an efficient and equitable way to get young people registered.
“I’m so proud of these young individuals who are so eager to participate in our democracy,” said Beth Finneran, a social studies teacher at Calhoun and the adviser of the Racial Equity Club.
Many students at Calhoun weren’t aware they were eligible to register early, Nickolas Mascary said, but club members let them know about the opportunity, and their hard work paid off: A total of 30 of their peers registered.
For more information on voter pre-registration, and registration for those of all age, visit TheCivicsCenter.org.