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Texas High Schools Are Supposed To Help Students Register To Vote, But They Don't

A state voter registration law enacted 34 years ago by the Texas legislature is seeing scant results, largely due to low participation by the same institutions the policy aims to target: high schools.    

The little-known law addresses voter registration for eligible students –teens at least 17 years and 10 months old – and requires Texas high school principals or designees to provide voter registration information at least twice a year.

According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, six percent of high schools asked the Texas Secretary of State's office for voter registration applications in 2016. Only 198 of the state's 1,428 public high schools indicated that they requested forms, while none of the estimated 1,800 private schools across the state reported making the same request."Participation in our High School Voter Registration Initiative is crucial to the future of our state and the health of our democracy," Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said in a statement. "I welcome any valid input from community stakeholders and seek to work with organizations whose priorities are educating students on their civic duties and empowering them to vote, rather than engaging in misplaced political campaigns."At this time, the Secretary of State's office has received commitment from more than 400 superintendents statewide, which accounts for more than 800 high schools in Texas.

With less than half of Texans ages 18 to 24 registered to vote, could giving high school students more opportunities to register affect voter participation and turnout?

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Raised in San Antonio, Jan Ross is a graduate of UT Austin’s School of Journalism. Before starting at Texas Public Radio, she interned for the News Desk at NPR Headquarters and the network’s mid-day program, Here & Now. She was a member of Texas Standard’s digital-first web team and interned during the newsmagazine show’s launch in 2015. Jan Ross is a Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change Fellow and was selected for the University of Texas System’s Archer Fellowship in Washington, D.C. Described as a “walking Wikipedia,” Jan Ross is interested in all things pop culture and global affairs. Her journalistic interests range from issues of social inequality to media commentary. She enjoys listening to podcasts and live music, traveling, and sharing the next-best shows on TV.