Group strives to increase student voter registration

Mackenzie Ross

Empower Alabama was founded in 2006 but renewed their mission last year with The Voter Participation Project. The organization found that young adults, less-educated people, minorities and lower-income communities vote less frequently than other groups. The project aims to register 90 percent of the state’s 48,163 public high school seniors.

“Since 1998, the share of Alabamians voting has dropped about 11 percent,” said Bradley Davidson, a University of Alabama alumnus and executive director of Empower Alabama. “Especially with young people under 25 years old, we have a problem in terms of folks registering to vote.”

Last year, Empower Alabama worked in 10 counties and was responsible for registering 20 percent of the state’s new voters. They also increased voter turnout in those districts by 10 to 12 percent. When they visited high schools, they gave a 10- to 15-minute presentation, showed students how to fill out the voter registration card and submitted the forms to the local registrar’s office.

“There’s been a lot of polls on the millennial generation to see what they’re concerned about, and they’re not the same things Congress is concerned about,” said Jenny McCharen, digital director for Empower Alabama. “This is your chance to change this world so it really represents you and your friends.”

In addition to increasing voter registration, Empower Alabama hopes to increase voter turnout. Davidson said a person who votes in three elections will become a lifelong voter. To do this, they are experimenting with Snapchat to remind students when to go vote. For college students, they want to provide information on how to vote absentee.

“We never tell people who to vote for,” Davidson said. “We’ll never endorse candidates. We’ll never endorse positions or a slate of issues. We just want young people, everybody, to vote.”

To further their mission, Empower Alabama seeks college students to help facilitate presentations at high schools across Alabama. McCharen cited research that showed a near peer is more effective when communicating with young people. Because of this, college-age students can more effectively deliver their message.

“If they don’t participate, government is going to continue to be old people,” McCharen said. “But if they do participate, there’s more of them. So government could be them if they just participated. It’s just a matter of 
showing up.”

Davidson said there are approximately 200,000 felons in the state of Alabama who could have their voting rights restored. In the future, Empower Alabama hopes to help those felons with the necessary paperwork to begin voting again.

To become involved, visit empoweralabama.com/apply or for more information visit Twitter @empoweralabama and Facebook “Empower Alabama.”