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Feb. 27, 2024 |  By: Mark Moran - Public News Service

Iowa ramps up push to register young voters

voting booths

By Mark Moran - Public News Service

Election officials in Iowa are upping their efforts to increase political participation among the state's youngest voters. A registration event has netted thousands of new voters - who are teens.

Iowa law requires high schools to conduct two voter registration drives every year to educate students.

This year, Secretary of State Paul Pate set aside a single day to turn the education into action, and get eligible high school students registered.

In Iowa, 17-year-olds who will be 18 by November of an election year can vote in primaries, and Pate travels the state to teach kids how government affects them.

"I ask young people, 'How many of you work a part-time job?' And hands go up," said Pate. "And I go, 'Well then, you're paying taxes right now - and you have no voice in how much you should be paying and where it goes.' Really, state and local government has a huge impact on these young people. So, we start with that message."

Pate said 4,500 17-year-olds are registered to vote as a result of the efforts. That's 1,100 more than were registered six months ago.

Pate said often, getting students registered to vote is the hard part. Once they're signed up, it's important for them to learn about the issues - and that happens in ways new and old.

"Still, the number one influencer is their family, so they're still having that conversation around the dinner table," said Pate. "And of course, the second one coming into it is social media - and their friends coming right in, close to third. So those are the audiences we have to play to, to instill in them why they need to be voters."

In yet another effort to encourage participation, Iowa held a straw poll for teens just before the state's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses last month. Six thousand students cast ballots.

Donald Trump came out on top in the Republican contest - and Marianne Williamson, who has since dropped out of the presidential race, won on the Democratic side.