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Commentary: How Texas high school principals can cultivate teen voters

Our democracy depends on the active participation of young Texans in the electoral process. It is essential that we empower younger generations to make their voices heard through voting. To do this, we must first take an active role in ensuring that those who are eligible can and will register to vote.

Fortunately, enshrined in the Texas Election Code is a unique provision that requires all high school principals in Texas to serve as deputy voter registrars in their schools. In this capacity, the principals are expected to distribute voter registration applications to those students who will be 18 years old by election day.

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In theory, this arrangement can be a great mechanism for principals to foster civic engagement among their students. But in practice, we are seeing a much different picture.

Of the estimated 1,434 public high school principals in Texas, less than 200 requested voter registration applications before the 2016 elections. That means that only 14 percent of our public high schools took advantage of this important opportunity to help register their students.

Texas students deserve better — and I want to work with principals to improve upon the past.

For this reason, and in my capacity as chief elections officer for Texas, I am issuing a call to action to all residents to encourage high school principals in our state to get involved.

I understand the incredible demands placed on our high school principals every day. I know they are busy and have a lot on their plate. I also understand that asking them to add yet another administrative function can be taxing on their already stretched resources. For this reason, my office will commit to providing all principals an effective and efficient digital mechanism for requesting voter registration applications. We will strive to make it as easy as possible to request and receive the materials needed to register their eligible students.

By the end of this month, as we have done at the beginning of each school year, my office will send out a packet to public high school principals in Texas detailing information related to their obligations as deputy voter registrars, including an order form for voter registration applications and a copy of the notice which must accompany each application distributed to students and school employees.

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We owe it to our children and to our communities to redouble our efforts to help increase participation among the newest generation of Texas voters. That is why I am making voter registration of eligible high school students a top priority and ensuring that our state’s high school principals have all the tools they need to make this voter registration effort a resounding success.

To all high school principals: Thank you for educating our children and for helping create a strong culture of civic engagement amongst them. It is our responsibility to make sure that all eligible seniors are provided the opportunity to register to vote. Please join me in striving to achieve a 100-percent participation rate among Texas high school principals. The future of Texas depends on it.

Pablos is Texas secretary of state.

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