Students register peers to vote

“You can’t complain about the lack of change if you don’t take action.” 

That’s what junior Jane Richards, 16, learned at a “Running and Winning” workshop last November, which laid the groundwork for her and two classmates — Lydia Shepherd, 17, and Emma Teodoru, 16 — to lead voter registration efforts at Shelter Island School last week.

For the first time, a new state law enables students to register when they’re 16 years old, even though they can’t cast ballots in any election until they’re 18.

The legislation that encourages early registration is thought to help ensure that students still in high school will get a lesson in the importance of voting.

The workshop, held at the Watermill Community House, was developed by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork. It was designed to bring together students who would return to their schools armed with the tools they need to persuade their peers to register and to organize a drive to achieve that end.

To sweeten the pot, last Friday social studies teacher Peter Miedema offered two classes an opportunity to enjoy breakfast in the classroom — but only after they had completed their registration forms.

Doughnuts were provided by Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D.; bagels by Mr. Miedema; pancakes prepared by Mr. Miedema with the batter provided by students; and fruit.

Looking back on their experience at the workshop, Ms. Shepherd and Ms. Richards said the chance to meet with many accomplished women who had entered politics after successful careers in other areas was inspirational. It gave them new insights, recognizing that whatever path a person is on, he or she could find a future in electoral politics.

All three students enjoyed talking with their peers from other schools and exchanging thoughts about what they were learning and how they would apply it in organizing their own registration drives.

Among the lessons Ms. Teodoru learned was how important a single vote can be.

A few years ago, when the Board of Education put forward a budget that went above the state-imposed 2% tax cap, a single vote enabled passage of the spending plan. 

The three student leaders learned how to conduct a voter registration effort and with the encouragement of junior class advisor Michelle Corbett, Mr. Miedema and social studies teacher Sean Brennan, they succeeded in registering two classes of students last Friday.

There was no pressure to get their peers to register with any particular political party or to remain independent. It was simply to ensure they and their fellow students would be ready to cast ballots at age 18 without having to do anything more than show up at the polls.