Butler, Wilson Introduce Legislation to Boost High School Student Civic Engagement

Washington D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) and Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.-24) introduced the High School Voter Empowerment Act which would boost civic participation among younger voters, promote civics education, and instruct high schools to conduct voter registration drives for eligible students.

“One of the greatest barriers to voting is access to the ballot box,” said Senator Butler. “The High School Voter Empowerment Act would get students going to the ballot box by allowing them to register to vote on-site at their high school.”

“I proposed the High School Voter Empowerment Act because I’m the founder of the 5000 Role Models Program, which is a program to break the school-to-prison pipeline I started over 30 years ago, and part of the goal of this program is to make our children become role models in our society,” said Representative Wilson. “Being a role model includes voting, and this bill is the key to empowering high schoolers to register and once they turn 18, they get their voting cards. Once they get their voting card, it’s a ripple effect across the family. And when they get their voter registration cards, you see their eyes light up, eager to engage and become informed citizens. I know this because I was a former school principal and teacher, and I remember seeing the look on our teenager’s faces when they got their voter registration cards. And now, more than ever, the youth is the future of this country. My generation does not have all the answers, and it is critical for the future of our democracy that we empower our youth and give them the resources they need to raise their voice.”

The High School Voter Empowerment Act would:

  • Require states to designate public high schools as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act
  • Instruct schools to conduct voter registration drives for their students
  • Allow high schools to work with state election officials to use voting machines to conduct student council or other student government elections
  • Direct the Secretary of Education to make grants to reimburse schools for the costs of carrying out a voter registration drive

Efforts such as college campus voter registration drives already increase access for young people to register to vote. Expanding this effort to high schools would empower students to make voting an established rite of passage in civic life and ensure that young people who choose not to attend college also have ample opportunities to register to vote.

In 2020, roughly half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the presidential election. While voter participation among this demographic was up compared to 2016, younger voters are still disproportionally less likely than older age groups to participate in elections. Low participation from younger voters is in part due to challenges accessing the ballot box, including registering to vote—younger voters often have less flexible school and employment schedules or lack the financial means to take time off from work.

The High School Voter Empowerment Act is co-sponsored by Senators: Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“Young voters and first-time voters often face unnecessary obstacles that stifle their voices at the ballot box,” said Senator Booker. “Educating high school students about civic engagement and designating high schools as voter registration sites will help young people exercise the right to vote and realize the power they hold to shift our nation’s future.”

“Voting is an essential pillar of democracy, but it’s also a learned skill,” said Senator Cardin. “The more we can do to promote the importance of voting among young voters, the more we do to support a thriving and long-lasting democracy. Our nation depends on it.”

“Voting is an important habit that we need to instill in the next generation, and schools, which are becoming increasingly more important as a community resource throughout the United States, should play a role in promoting civic engagement among our youth,” said Senator Hirono. “I’m proud to introduce the High School Voter Empowerment Act of 2024, legislation that would make it easier for young people to register to vote by supporting public high schools in conducting annual voter-registration drives. This bill will encourage young people and communities to participate in our democracy.”

“Protecting the ability of all eligible voters to participate in our political process is fundamental to upholding a functioning democracy,” said Senator Padilla. “As California’s former Secretary of State, I know firsthand the importance of mobilizing young people and making voter registration a convenient, accessible process for them. We must instill a sense of civic responsibility in our next generation and uplift the role they play in determining the direction of our nation’s future.”

The High School Voter Empowerment Act is endorsed by: California Common Cause, End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund, League of Women Voters, The Voters Initiative, NAACP, Stand Up America, ACLU, National Council of Negro Women, and other organizations.

“Especially as some states are making it harder for students and young people to vote, we must do everything we can to encourage youth voter turnout,” said Virginia Kase Solomón, President and CEO of Common Cause. “Common Cause is proud of our history helping to advance the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18, but there is much more work to do so that it lives up to its promise of a more empowered, reflective, and representative democracy. Common Cause thanks Senator Butler for her leadership in introducing the High School Voter Empowerment Act to ensure that the voices of young Americans can be more fully heard in the decisions that affect their lives.”

“Young Americans are disproportionately less likely to participate in our elections due to the unique challenges they face while trying to access the ballot box,” said Tiffany Muller, President of End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund. “Senator Butler understands that the youth are our future and it’s crucial to ensure their voices are heard—and protected—in our democracy. Her High School Voter Empowerment Act will address the specific obstacles young voters face and empower them to exercise their most fundamental freedom. We applaud Senator Butler for her continued leadership in expanding access to the ballot box for all.”

“The future of our democracy lies in the hands of today’s youth. It is our collective duty to foster a culture of civic participation among young people and eliminate the barriers they face in exercising their constitutional right to vote,” said Xavier Persad, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The High School Voter Empowerment Act would do just that by requiring and funding regular voter registration opportunities for eligible young voters where they attend school, and encouraging partnerships between schools and state officials that help instill a culture of civic participation. Our democracy is at its best and strongest when everyone — including eligible young people — is empowered to vote and play a part in shaping our collective future.”

“Voter registration is one of the most important ways to get young people involved in our democracy. Designating public high schools as voter registration sites is not only good for students, but also for our country,” said Brett Edkins, Managing Director of Policy & Political Affairs at Stand Up America.We’re grateful to Senator Butler for leading on this critical legislation and look forward to supporting it throughout this session.”

“The Centre applauds the support of Senator Laphonza Butler and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to champion efforts for civic engagement amongst the youth. It is only possible to achieve true change through persistent, meaningful, dialogue. Senior staff member Vedansh Garg recalls having had to ‘often leave school early to advocate in Washington to fight for the possibility of [students] to have a seat at the table through electoral education’. Garg has missed over ten days of school fighting to advocate for the bill, and commends ‘Congressional leaders for taking action to ensure the next generation’s civic education be one to open doors to equality, stability, and happiness.’” – The Voters Initiative

“The High School Voter Empowerment Act is a necessary piece of legislation that will propel our democracy forward and will engage young women and men of voting age in our election process. Designating public high schools as voter registration sites will help emphasize the vital role every American plays in the election of our government officials,” said Shavon Arline-Bradley, President and CEO of NCNW. “Voting is our civic duty and fundamental right, a right that many have fought, bled and died for so that our voices could be heard through our vote. With this in mind, NCNW will continue to support policies similar to this bill that elevate the process of civic participation.”

Since taking office, Senator Butler has worked to champion the next generation of Californians. At the start of this year, Butler held youth roundtables across California to talk about issues such as youth mental health, economic opportunity, and democracy. To build off this momentum, Butler partnered with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to discuss how to create solutions to the growing mental health crisis among young people, particularly people who identify as LGBTQ+ and who lack the traditional resources and tools to seek help.

Back in D.C., Butler introduced new legislation, the Pride In Mental Health Act, which would strengthen mental health and crisis intervention resources for at-risk LGBTQ+ youth. Senator Butler also signed onto the Youth Voting Rights Act which would allow people to pre-register to vote at sixteen, and the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act, which would strengthen protections for children at the border.

In addition, Senator Butler has signed onto the Freedom to Vote Act, the Sustaining Our Democracy Act, the Youth Voting Rights Act, the Same Day Registration Act, and the Expanding the VOTE Act. These bills include several reforms like same day voter registration, universal vote by mail, and expanded language accessibility for non-English speaking.

Full bill text can be found HERE


Stay Up To Date With Laphonza

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.