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North Carolina law lets high school students register before legal voting age

 

A unique North Carolina law requires county elections officials to hold voter registration drives on high school campuses each year – even before students are of legal age to vote.

More than a hundred students have registered to vote at St. Stephens High School in Hickory, N.C., this school year. Civics and Social Studies teacher Laura Sigmon credits the increased participation to the unique North Carolina law.

“Well, I think it makes it much more easily available to register,” says Sigmon. “Even though they can register at the DMV when they get their driver’s license, it gives them a chance right here at lunch, an easy thing for them to do.”

St. Stephens student Rebecca Millsaps stopped to fill out a voter registration form between classes. She’s excited to be a first-time voter in what she calls a very important election next month.

“It’s extremely important to me that I get to vote because I am finally able to voice my opinion and have it be heard and not just go along with what every other person has decided for me,” says Millsaps, who just turned 18.

“I just turned 17 in August and I just registered to vote last week,” said high school senior Landry Brown. Brown looks forward to voting in the next election.

The state law, which passed with bi-partisan support in 2009, leaves the choice of whether or not to register to the student. It also allows counties to partner up with groups like The League of Women Voters, which has set up registration booths in cafeterias during lunchtime across the state.

Five other states allow teenagers to pre-register at the age of 16, but the North Carolina law is the only one to require registration drives at high schools.

“We all know the national trend that voter participation with youth is pretty low, it’s pretty pathetic to be honest,” says Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham, D-N.C., co-sponsor of the law.  “So I hope that this is a tool to say ‘participate in your government, be involved’ and let’s form good habits as citizens and be engaged and informed.”

Democracy North Carolina, which describes itself as a nonpartisan election reform advocacy group, lobbied for the law. The group says more than 107,000 students ages 16 and up have been pre-registered to vote since January 2010. An analysis of voter rolls shows no party is benefiting from the new crop of voters. Multi-year trends show about 30 percent of the students in North Carolina register Republican, 30 percent Democratic and 40 percent choose Independent or “other” on their registration forms.

“It doesn’t matter to me if they are conservative. It doesn’t matter to me if they are Liberal, Republican or Democrat, I just want them to participate,” Sigmon says.

Ann Taylor, another senior at St. Stephens High School, isn’t quite old enough to vote for president next month. But she has been pre-registered to vote for almost two years and can’t wait for the day she can cast her ballot as a North Carolina voter.

“It feels nice to be one of those states that has cool things like this and encourages youth to be able to get involved,” said Taylor.  “We are a swing state so I that is one reason why we do it, since everybody’s vote matters so much, it’s important to get as many people as you can.”

Fox News’ Elizabeth Prann contributed to this report.