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Voter Education Becomes Policy For San Bernardino City High Schools


California has a resolution to encourage voter registration in high schools. But just last week the city of San Bernardino’s School Board became the first in the Inland Empire to make it a requirement with just over a month to go before the November election. KVCR's Megan Jamerson has the story.

Sixteen year-old Cajon High School junior Natalie Salcido, says it was a year ago when she and a group of youth organizers from five other schools started talking about needing a voter registration policy. They brought their ideas to the San Bernardino City Unified School District Board in May.

“My stance is just very much to make sure that the students in our district and communities knew that their voice and their vote mattered," said Salcido. "Sadly, a lot of the people that I know aren’t very encouraged to be a part of the decision in their communities.”

The board, which was already looking into improving student voter education, drafted a policy and on September 15 voted to pass it unanimously. Salcido, and her fellow youth organizers from the interfaith coalition I.C.U.C., watched the vote virtually.

“It was just so rewarding to see that a lot of our effort and work paid off,” said Salcido.

In California, students can pre-register to vote starting at age 16. And right now, a state resolution encourages high schools to work with county registrars to do voter education during the last two weeks of April and September.

School Board President Gwen Rodgers says it was important to her to have a policy for city schools that reinforced the state resolution through an education requirement. Which is what she told student organizers.

“You’re going to be educated. We’re not going to get into the politics side of it," said Rodgers. "This is engaging you from the educational perspective and getting you to go in and explore and make your own decisions.”

The policy requires adding eleventh and twelfth grade curriculum on civic engagement and the right to vote. And it asks that high schools are made into polling places so that students can see their teachers and school staff vote which can help normalize the process.

Rodgers says the board’s universal enthusiasm for the policy was not surprising. 

“All of us sitting up there are parents, are grandparents, or you know have kids that we know we’re representing both personally and as a district at large," said Rodgers. "And so, it was a win all the way around. It was like how do we do this for them, we need to do this. This is something we need to press upon the importance that we see them that we hear them.”

According to data from the state, there have been real gains on youth voting. In the 2018 midterms over 61 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds registered, which is up from 52 percent in 2014. But overall, this age group continues to have the lowest voter turnout at only 27 percent.

Rodgers hopes the policy continues to increase these numbers. Natalie Salcido agrees and hopes it reduces the stigma that her peers aren’t educated enough to vote.

“I think it’s just important to make sure that youth know that they don’t just have to be bystanders to everything that goes on, but realize that if they do put in the work that they can overall make a positive change,” said Salcido.

And while Salcido isn’t eligible yet cast her own ballot, she remains motivated to encourage others. She will be volunteering to provide voter registration presentations at her school and keep working with youth leaders in Riverside and Coachella Valley to get a similar policy passed.