I. In Focus This Week
Reading, writing, arithmetic and voter registration?
Seminole County program deputizes high school principals
By M. Mindy Moretti
As students head back to the classroom across the country, while their thoughts may be on reading, writing and arithmetic, elections officials are thinking about registration and how exactly to get many of those students to be voters too.
In Florida, where the state allows 16-and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote, high schools are a target-rich environment for voter registration drives. Each year the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office registers and pre-registers about 2,000 students.
However, state legislators haven’t made that as easy as it seems.
In 2011 the Florida Legislature passed a law declaring that anyone collecting completed voter registration applications must register with the state as a third-party voter registration organization.
“Many of our students would like to register to vote and turn in their completed applications at school,” explained Michael Ertel, supervisor of elections. “My fear was schools would have to sign up as a third party voter registration entity, which could become chilling on their willingness to receive completed applications from their students.”
So since then, each summer Ertel deputizes all nine of the county’s high school principals so they can collect the voter registration forms from students. Only the principals are deputized and their deputization is only for collecting completed applications forms from students enrolled at the high school the principal is assigned to.
Ertel attends one of the summer meetings of high school principals and deputizes them on the spot. The training itself is fairly quick, basically letting the principals know the process and the likely situations they may encounter.
The program actually saves the county quite a bit of money long-term Ertel said and as an added benefit, it can save quite a bit of good will too.
“When we conduct a voter registration drive at a school, we have found many students do not keep their driver's license on them, and many do not know their social security number. This would have caused us to send the incomplete applicant a letter informing they didn't fully complete the form, thus they would not be registered. The student's first interaction with our office would have been a negative one, regardless of the reason for the letter,” Ertel explained. “By allowing those students who don't have the full information the ability to simply drop the form back off at the front desk the next day, we are providing them the opportunity to register at their own pace, and without costly back-and-forth mailings.”
Seminole County is currently the only county to deputize principals although Ertel said several other supervisors of elections have reached out to him for a copy of the deputizing form and other information about the program.
Ertel said he lobbies the state Legislature each year to change the law to allow high school principals to collect the forms without needing to register as third-party organizations to no avail
“I think their thinking at our local level is, ‘well, Mike has already found a solution, so what's the problem?’” Ertel said.
(Editor's Note: Do you have a unique voter registration program? Let us know, we'd love to share it with our readers.)
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