connect Winner / 2021
100 Youth Democracy Leaders. 10,000 New Youth Voters.
The biggest obstacle to youth voting is not apathy; it’s voter registration. Seventy-five percent of 18-year-olds who were registered to vote turned out to vote in Los Angeles County in the 2020 general election. We empower high school students to be youth democracy leaders, organizing their peers to use existing laws that allow young people to preregister to vote beginning at age 16.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- County of Los Angeles
- City of Los Angeles
- Other:: We work with students from all of these areas
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
A 20% voter registration gap persists among young and older voters. This registration gap suppresses youth turnout. Our democracy needs young people to be involved. California has a variety of helpful laws to promote high school voter registration, yet our public agencies have done little to implement these laws. Our voter preregistration rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in Los Angeles County is just 10%. In LA County, 75% of 18-year-olds who were registered voted in the November 2020 general election. Scholarly research shows that increasing youth preregistration increases turnout. The lack of consistent funding, training, programs and policy disenfranchise LA youth. We believe young people are at the center of their own political empowerment. Our programs and initiatives create youth democracy leaders. They know they can vote and use their voices to create change in their communities.They know why democracy is important, and they know how to get their peers involved and voting.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
Youth Democracy Leaders–LA (YDL-LA) provides a diverse group of high school students an opportunity to join a community of young people and lead their peers in improving LA County youth voter participation rates. Students learn valuable leadership skills, meet local leaders, gain experience in organizing, and collaborate on tactics for making change. This four-month program incorporates community-building exercises in which each student develops a “public narrative,” a practice of storytelling that connects their personal experiences to larger public issues facing Los Angeles. Students then participate in three learning modules consisting of one-hour long Zoom meetings as well as individual and collaborative projects. The modules cover the foundations of youth voter engagement, opportunities to improve youth voter registration policies, and organizing nonpartisan voter registration efforts. Each project provides students with opportunities to use a variety of methods to overcome challenges to youth voter participation. Participants also serve as role models to high school students across the County, encouraging them to promote voter registration in their schools and to support policies promoting youth voter registration. The program concludes when students organize and hold a voter registration drive for their high school. Through a collaboration with Student PIRGs, we will incorporate college students as mentors and ambassadors to high school students and their schools.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
- Direct impact
- Indirect impact
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Our work with teens will uplift LA County by increasing youth enfranchisement and engagement and will foster student leadership and activism within high schools, creating the leaders of tomorrow. During the grant period, we plan to train high school students in LA County, and they will lead at least 100 voter registration drives in LA County high schools, thus resulting in at least 10,000 young people registering or preregistering to vote. Our main aim, in the long run, is not just the number of registrations, but to foster youth leadership that lasts a lifetime. We expect these efforts to amplify in the years to come as such participation becomes integrated as an activity in student life, such as prom or graduation. We believe that changing the culture of youth voting will result in systemic change, ensuring these efforts are sustainable without a high degree of outside organizing. Our 2020 report further details our efforts to uplift LA County: thecivicscenter.org/publications
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
Our YDL-LA Program is in its inaugural run. We are measuring our impact in several different ways. We measure the number of young leaders we train, the number of drives they lead, and the number of students registered to vote through their efforts. We also measure changes in county-wide preregistration rates through reports generated by the California Secretary of State, and we measure overall registration rates and turnout rates among young voters with the aid of the LA County voter file. We know our approach works because we have been implementing similar programs for two years. Most of the students we train go on to hold voter registration drives. Nationwide, students who have gone through our programs (Future Voters Action Week (FVAW), High School Voter Registration Week (HSVRW), the 2020 Youth Fellowship, and online workshops). These efforts have led to hundreds of student-led drives in 35 states and more than 10,000 young people registering to vote.
Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.
The Civics Center will collaborate with local Student PIRGs in our YDL-LA program, with an aim to integrate college students into high school voter registration efforts, creating opportunities for an “Adopt-a-High School” voter registration program for college students and building mentorships among youth activists. In the summer of 2021, college student leaders associated with the LA Student PIRG chapters at UCLA and USC will apply to participate as small group discussion leaders in the program, developing mentoring relationships and experience working with high school students across Los Angeles. The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has helped more than 2 million young people register to vote and created over 3 million personalized, peer-to-peer Get out the Vote contacts.
Which of the connect metrics will you impact?
- Government responsiveness to residents’ needs
- Voting rates
Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.
- LA is the best place to LEARN