Youth civic engagement

We have run a series of programs designed to test how we can improve civic engagement by young people, particularly people of color and those from low-income and/or less educated backgrounds.

Student Leaders in Elections

From October 2014 to May 2015, in conjunction with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, we operated one of the largest college student election judge (poll worker) programs in the country, interacting with over 4,000 students and resulting in over 1,500 students working as election judges in 2014 and 2015.   

We focused on college students because they represent a unique population–well educated and accustomed to learning new skills, college students are also comfortable with computers and other technologies. College students can manage the physical requirements of poll working–carrying heavy supplies and equipment and they tend to have high levels of energy and can make it through the typical 15-hour work day of a poll worker.

Placing students at the center of a polling location, giving them some authority, and having them help democracy function is one of the best hands-on learning experiences they can have. College poll worker programs truly engage students in the electoral process. Such programs offer students a true appreciation for the enormous logistical tasks involved in ensuring that basic rights are protected and upheld. Students develop new understanding of the rights and privileges of citizenship, and new skills, such as how to ensure access for someone with a disability and how to be sensitive to the needs of a diverse population.

As a result of the program, student participants reported greater interest in voting and being civically engaged in the future, the polling places became more efficient, and the program was so successful that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners plans to expand the use of college students as election judges in 2016.

In September, 2015 we released a report, Student Leaders in Elections, that describes and evaluates the program to identify effective strategies and document the program’s impact. The Student Leaders in Elections Program recruited over 1,500 college students to work in three elections in 2014 and 2015, making it one of the largest college poll worker programs in the country. The students engaged in a valuable civic opportunity and helped to make the election process smoother and more accessible for voters.

chicago democracy week

In 2014 we, in collaboration with a coalition of civic groups, ran Chicago Democracy Week at roughly 40 high schools across Chicago. The program proved that high school students can be just as engaged in civic life as any other segment of the population. The week of civic education programs resulted in nearly 4,000 students registering to vote. The turnout rate of these students in the 2014 primary exceeded that of every other age group except those 46 and older. 

The week also provided an opportunity for member attorneys to connect with high school students to discuss the history of voting rights in the U.S. and the importance of civic engagement today. 

We plan to run another Chicago Democracy Week in February 2016.  Would you like to learn more? Be a volunteer teacher? Bring civic education classes to your school?