This week on “In The Public Interest," our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, 89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with league member Roddy Wares about their continuing efforts to register local high school students to vote and the impact of that.
About the Guest - Roddy Wares
I have been very active a number of non-profits in the area. I was one of the co-founders of IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network) which eventually became Alpha House - a homeless shelter for families. I was also Development Director for Peace Neighborhood Center when we raised the funds to build our present building.
I have four children (all grown now with kids of their own) and was very active in the schools both with the PTO’s and the school improvement teams. I also coached field hockey for 23 years and have been a yoga teacher for over 15 years.
I grew up in Canada and and thinks that his passion for registering people to vote stems, in part, from knowing about the system in Canada where everyone is automatically registered once they turn 18.
About the Issue
Registering high school students to vote. What is the League’s high school project? How does this year’s effort compare to last year’s effort? How do the new laws affect the project?
Why I am doing this:
I tell everyone that leading the high school voter registration project is the perfect gig. It is such meaningful work. With just 5 minutes of their time, the students are empowered for the rest of their lives.
I have been registering people to vote for over 20 years. I was frustrated by the laws that made it difficult for Michigan college students to vote absentee even if we did get them registered. I think that is what made me so excited about leading this effort. The new laws and regulations that are a result of Prop 3 have changed this to make it so much easier for young people to register and to vote. But, even still, it is really important to register them as early as possible. Studies show that once people vote for the first time they are much more likely to continue to vote.
I also love working with the League because it is non-partisan and we do not talk politics at all.
You did this last year and now this year. How did it work last year? Are there any differences this year? Do you think it will be a regular League project?
We visited 14 high schools last year, and every school invited us back. We've revisted most of them. We may not register as many voters since it's not an election year.
English classes, primarily. We either go into their classrooms, or they bring them to us in the media centers or auditorium settings.
What has been your reception when you visit the classes?
The kids are very appreciative, and the staff has been very welcoming.
How many people are on your team? Describe a typical presentation.
We do a 15-20 presentation. We don't really them anything, except how to register, because these kids already know why they should register. We also tell them how to get an absentee ballot, what they need to register, like their ID's. We mention to sign up with turbovote.org to stay informed. The students later fill out registration forms and voter cards.
When the voters approved Proposal 3 last November, they approved a number of changes in Michigan voting procedures and rules. What changes were made that affect young people who want to register to vote?
It's been easier for kids to vote absentee. Originally, they couldn't vote because they were away at college and, therefore, couldn't vote in person. Kids can even register themselves by downloading registration forms and mailing them out. And, once they're registered, they're registered for life.
What will change for everyone regarding registering to vote?
Here's what Proposal 3 does:
- Protect the right to vote a secret ballot
- Ensure military service members and overseas voters can obtain ballots
- Provide Michigan residents with the option to vote straight party
- Automatically register citizens to vote at the Secretary of State’s office unless the citizen declines
- Allow a citizen to register to vote anytime with proof of residency
- Provide all registered voters access to an absentee ballot for any reason
- Ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections by auditing election results
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