There might not be a more exciting year to be part of Inspire Arizona — our state’s version of Inspire U.S., a national youth leadership program that teaches high-school students about voter registration and civic involvement. With the presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, it’s a great time for teens to take part in the process.
Eighty students from 24 Arizona schools are part of the 2016-17 program, and their top priority is to register their classmates to vote. Arizona’s voter registration deadline is midnight Monday, Oct. 10.
“The goal for students is to register 85 percent of their senior classes,” says Darryl Bess, one of the program coordinators.
The registration drives are important, Bess says, because the number of registered young voters here is low.
“The youth demographic has the lowest voter turnout across the nation,” he says. “And in Arizona, voter turnout is one of the lowest among 18- to 24-year-olds.”
Last year’s Inspired Leaders, as they’re called in the program, registered more than 1,700 new voters in that age group.
“It has been incredible to see sophomores, juniors or seniors growing into their roles as student leaders,” Bess says. (Students can nominate themselves for the program or be nominated by school faculty or administrators.)
Adrian Jamieson, another program coordinator, agrees.
“As sophomores are trying to talk to the senior class, it can be pretty intimidating,” Jamieson says. “To see those students feel comfortable with that and know their stuff when people ask them questions — that’s really meaningful to me.”
Students in the program say they’re learning the importance of civic engagement.
“I wanted to register as many seniors as possible to vote, just so their voices could be heard,” says Zaria Guignard, who was in the program last year as a junior at McClintock High School in Tempe.
Cassie Murphy, who graduated last spring from University High School in Tolleson while serving on the Inspire Arizona team, discovered it wasn’t just the teens in her community who benefited from learning about the process.
“We found out that students’ parents weren’t always registered or didn’t understand how to vote, because a lot of them never went through American high schools or were taught American civics. So our goal was to really to reach out to the community and register adults as well,” Murphy says.
For both teens, the program was exciting because it introduced them to dozens of like-minded students.
“It was nice to find a community that felt the same way that I did about voting and about impacting your community,” Murphy says.
Zaria also liked the way asking her classmates to sign up to vote made them feel about themselves: “They were excited, I think, (that) finally people were asking them their opinions.”
In addition to the registration drives, Inspire Arizona students learn about civic responsibility and how to make a difference in their communities. While in the program, Murphy and some of her fellow “Inspired Leaders” developed a mentoring program for some of the students at her school. They realized many of the students’ parents weren’t equipped to help them navigate the transition from middle school to high school, so they’ve matched up freshman with senior mentors.
This year, all students in the program hosted events and presentations in their classrooms on National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 27). On election day, they’ll take part in an election watch party to see how their hard work paid off.
Arizona voting information
• You must be 18 or older as of Tuesday, Nov. 8.
• You must be a United States citizen, a resident of Arizona and a resident of the county listed on your registration.
• To prove U.S. citizenship, you must show an Arizona driver’s license or non-operator identification card issued after Oct. 1, 1996, or one of the following documents: a birth certificate, passport, U.S. naturalization documents or Native American tribal certificate.
• The deadline to register to vote in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election is Monday, Oct. 10.
• For more information or to register, visit the Arizona Secretary of State’s office or azsos.gov.