In a valiant attempt to fight non-existent voter fraud, GOP lawmakers across the country have been passing legislation that systematically disenfranchises core Democratic constituencies by making it more difficult to vote. One of those groups — young voters — have chronically low turnout and report feeling disaffected by politics.
But high school teachers who are trying to combat that trend and get their students interested and involved in civic life are finding their mission at odds with the news laws created by Republican legislators, who would prefer young voters just stay home. Florida high school teacher Jill Cicciarelli recently discovered she had inadvertently broken the law when she tried to help her students register to vote:
The teacher who heads up New Smyrna Beach High School’s student government association could face thousands of dollars in fines. Her transgression? Helping students register to vote.
Prepping 17-year-olds for the privileges and responsibilities of voting in a democracy is nothing new for civics teachers, but when Jill Cicciarelli organized a drive at the start of the school year to get students pre-registered, she ran afoul of Florida’s new and controversial election law.
Among other things, the new rules require that third parties who sign up new voters register with the state and that they submit applications within 48 hours. The law also reduces the time for early voting from 14 days to eight and requires voters who want to give a new address at the polls to use a provisional ballot.
Cicciarelli was motivated to register students because volunteers helped her first register when she was a student at Florida State University. League of Women Voters volunteers helped her “navigate a process that seemed a little intimidating to a teenager who’d never voted.” Ironically, fear of violating the state’s new rules have prompted the League of Women Voters to suspend their registration efforts in Florida.
“I just want them to be participating in our democracy,” Ciccarelli says of her students. “The more participation we have, the stronger our democracy will be.”
One of those students, 17-year-old student government association co-president Shannon Miller, was grateful she had the chance to register at school. But she worries her peers won’t participate if there are too many obstacles. “It may discourage some students (from registering) if it’s more difficult,” she said.