By Philip Haldiman
A campaign has begun to get the vote out at Peoria Unified high school campuses.
That is to say — get as many seniors registered before the next election.
Parker Forrester, Liberty High School student body president, said the most important thing anybody can do by being a patriot in this democracy is to vote.
Mr. Forrester is spearheading a voter registration campaign across all seven high schools, with the goal of creating an ongoing, sustainable registration environment.
The program will be presented to high school seniors and then incorporated into their government classes.
Mr. Forrester said millennials and Generation Z have surpassed baby boomers as the largest eligible voting age group and the district can do way more to make sure seniors get the resources needed to register.
“Our problem is that we aren’t voting like the baby boomers. Changing that would mean a whole power play for our generation in American politics, and the way our government runs. We do have the numbers but not the power because the younger generation is not voting, and this is something I’d like to change,” he said. “Being an elected official I know how important it can be that one vote can make difference.”
Mr. Forrester has begun sharing the voter registration plan with district high schools.
PUSD spokeswoman Danielle Airey said the district has always encouraged voter registration during senior checkout procedures for at each high school, but this broadens the approach and leads from a student perspective.
“It is a coordinated effort to make sure students graduate with a full understanding of their civic responsibility and have the tools they need to register to vote. It is also the hope they are encouraged to become more engaged and informed voters.”
Two Peoria Unified bonds have failed since 2016 and Centennial senior Christopher Widdigan said it didn’t help that the youth vote was not widely represented.
After all, bonds directly affect the students, especially those who will continue to come of age in the district, which has more than 37,000 students.
Mr. Widdigan said the voter registration drive will make sure his fellow students’ voices are heard.
The average age in the Peoria area is 36 while average voting age is 56, he said.
“The last bond election was a lot better than the one before but it was still not able to get passed. One of the reasons for that is because there was very low youth voter turnout,” he said. “I feel like there should be a lot more representation from the youth community in deciding those bond elections and local matters that pertain to the youth.”
The voter registration drive actually originated with Centennial graduate Matthew Billings, a current student at Northern Arizona University.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, 2018, Mr. Billings organized an event to bring together students and politicians to discuss related issues.
PUSD President Monica Ceja Martinez said the event never got off the ground due to the political climate at the time, but Mr. Billings had previously presented the idea of a consistent, sustaining voter registration effort throughout the district. District officials were inspired by his research and that concept has been handed over to PUSD students and they are now working to realize it, Ms. Ceja Martinez said.
“PUSD seniors have had voter registration drives, but it depends on the extent to which the school’s principal would support it,” she said. “Our superintendent is 100 percent in support of this.”
PUSD governing board members David Sandoval and Cory Underhill suggested partnering with organizations like Rock the Vote and Campus Vote Project.
Mr. Sandoval said there are opportunities “where schools are given funds to support voter registration guides and making campuses more voter friendly.”