Some of the largest school districts in Lorain County struggle to register their students to vote in part because of required state testing.
According to Ohio Department Education enrollment data, Lorain and Elyria are the two largest districts in the county but the number of 17- and 18-year-olds they registered for the May primary don’t reflect their size.
While the Lorain school district had the largest number of 18-year-olds registered before the primary at 151, the school district had 6,537 students registered in October. Other districts, such as Amherst and Avon, registered 122 and 143 18-year-olds, respectively, while having 3,625 and 4,303 students.
Steve Cawthon, the social studies department head at Lorain High School, said the school district tries to register as many students as possible but because of the end-of-course exams required by the state for graduation, government courses are offered at the junior level instead of the senior level in order give students more time to pass the exam.
“So there’s sometimes an age issue, but we do have hard copies of the forms readily available and we do direct them to the Board of Elections,” he said. “The problem is most of them just aren’t in history courses by their senior year. We are willing to take the forms to the board for them, though, and we do the best that we can.”
Cawthon said voter registration in the Lorain school district would higher if government was still offered the last year in school because “it’s fresh in their minds as they’re truly becoming citizens and adults.”
Elyria district spokeswomen Amy Higgins said their school district runs into a similar problem because government is also offered at the junior level now instead of the senior level.
“We do register students, but we run into some of that as well with kids taking government courses as juniors,” she said. “It really depends on when students turn 18 and when they’re taking the classes.”
The Midview school district, which saw 85 18-year-olds register to vote before the May primary, also saw the most 17-year-olds register to vote with 36; Amherst not far behind with 31 17-year-olds registering to vote.
Midview High School principal Tom Faska said the building recently made government a junior-level class, but the voter registration push has switched to the senior-year English courses.
“We do so well because we register them right here in school,” he said. “We definitely feel as though it’s our responsibility to prepare these students to exercise their right to vote. I mean, why shouldn’t we help them register?”
Faska said the district could very easily just direct students to the Board of Elections but then students wouldn’t be getting educated.
“We want to do our duty and really it’s the teachers who do it,” he said. “Without the teachers, it wouldn’t happen.”
County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said before the May primary, the agency hosted information sessions for area school districts to refresh them on their roles as “designated agencies.”
“They can register people all the way up until the deadline,” he said. “If a student walks in on the deadline and tells their principal that they want to register to vote, the school is able to do that as long as it is date stamped to us by the appropriate time.”
Adams said it’s important for districts to have a program to register students because being involved at a younger age makes a person more likely to engage as time goes on.
“It makes them more knowledgeable,” he said. “When someone is registered from right when they’re eligible, they’re more apt to make it ongoing part of what they do.”
For more information on registering to vote, visit lorain countyelections.com.