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Voter registration drives go into schools

Staff Writer

Registration drives are being conducted at high schools across the state, including in Lincoln County, in an effort to add teenagers to voter rolls.

The initiative, resulting from a state statute that became effective in 2010, has enabled more than 60,000 young adults to be eligible to vote in November’s election after being preregistered when they were as young as 16 years old, according to a press release from nonpartisan organization Democracy North Carolina.

The preregistration law, which received broad bipartisan support when it was introduced, is a unique one. Though five other states — including Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland and Rhode Island — allow citizens to preregister starting at age16, North Carolina’s law is the only one that requires election officials to hold drives in high schools annually, noted Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina in the release.

Thousands more teenagers have signed up this month because the same North Carolina law requires county election boards or partnering groups to conduct voter registration and preregistration drives in public high schools each year during Citizens Awareness Month (September). Last year, the month-long drive resulted in more than 8,500 youth being preregistered.

Both Lincolnton High School and West Lincoln High School conducted drives Thursday during lunch periods. Lincoln County Board of Elections Director Bill C. Beam told the Times-News this week that guidance counselors at area high schools had also been supplied with registration forms.

Beam said he thinks the program is a good one, noting that it’s a way to start the process of making youth more aware politically.

“It’s always a positive to have young people involved,” he added.

In the 32 months since the new law took effect, a total of 107,400 16- and 17-year-olds across the state have preregistered and automatically become fully registered when they reach voting age, the release noted.

An analysis by Democracy North Carolina of teenage preregistrants indicates that 30 percent are affiliating with the Democratic Party, and the same share — 30 percent — is signing up with the Republican Party. One percent is aligning with the Libertarian Party, and 39 percent are choosing none of the parties.

“These young voters run the gamut, from those signing up at the DMV almost automatically when they get their first driver’s license, to those who fill out the form in high school after studying the election process in their civics class,” said Hall. “They are more independent and more inclined to evaluate candidates without relying on party labels.”

Since the program started, there have been 758 Lincoln County teenagers preregistered to vote, according to data compiled through the end of August.

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