- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Members of the Hastings chapter of the League of Women Voters attest that the greatest obstacle to getting youths to the polls is taking the initial plunge.

“If we can show young people how easy it is to register and to vote, they will be more likely to come back consistently,” Donna Dill, league treasurer and the organization’s past president, told the Hastings Tribune.

With that hurdle in mind, members of the League of Women Voters are setting up voter registration booths at area high schools and colleges throughout the month and are encouraging area residents age 17 and older to fill out their paperwork.

League members provide voter registration applications, polling maps, voting tips and other materials at the tables. When high school students, teachers or staff stop by, registration takes less than 10 minutes.

Any Adams County resident who will be 18 by the Nov. 4 general election can vote in the Nebraska primary May 13. This is especially critical this year as those youths will have the opportunity to vote on the Hastings Public Schools bond issue that is slated to renovate and update the district’s elementary sites.

“There are issues that directly affect our young people,” Dill said. “We’re trying to encourage kids to make decisions about their government and not to let older people make all the choices for them. They have just as much say as we do.”

The League of Women Voters members conduct research on voting trends and attest that if citizens of any age have an easy avenue through which they can register to vote, they are much more apt to follow through when election times come around. That fact is even more evident among young people.

The Hastings League of Women Voters has been hosting voter registration booths at area high schools for many years and members have seen a decrease in turnout recently. They attribute this to the fact that many teenagers fill out voter registration information when they get their drivers licenses.

Still, at some smaller area schools such as Kenesaw and Silver Lake, there have been some years where the chapter has signed up entire classes of eligible seniors to vote.

Government and social studies teachers at the schools also can be a huge source of encouragement for students. The League of Women Voters sends voting resources and materials to teachers before they visit the schools and encourage the instructors to pass the word along.

The booths are set up during the lunch hour, as students are usually in a hurry before and after school.

“The lunch hour gives us more opportunities to stop kids and ask them if they’ve registered,” said Bev Powell, a league member who has been volunteering at the registration booths for many years.

Both Powell and Dill say that opening a dialogue with students about the democratic process is just as important as securing registration forms. If students are hesitant to vote because they feel like they don’t know enough about the issues on the ballot, Dill encourages them to ask their parents or family members.

“I always tell kids to find a ballot in the newspaper or whatever, sit down with someone, and go through it and talk about it,” she said.

Family members are also a key driving force behind the participation of young voters. If parents talk about politics at home or make a habit of voting, teens and young are likely to follow suit.

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