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Students Preregister to Vote at Santa Maria High School Event

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson talk about the importance of young people getting out the vote

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla visited Santa Maria High School Wednesday morning to talk about voter preregistration, in which students can sign up to vote at 16 or 17 years old and the registration automatically activates once they turn 18. Click to view larger
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla visited Santa Maria High School Wednesday morning to talk about voter preregistration, in which students can sign up to vote at 16 or 17 years old and the registration automatically activates once they turn 18. (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

When California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson visited Santa Maria High School Wednesday morning, the elected officials said one of the biggest barriers to students registering to vote is their general lack of understanding of how the process works.

Dozens of teens at the high school preregistered to vote after Padilla and Jackson spoke about the importance of young people making their voices heard at the ballot box. 

"Your life will never be the same," Padilla said to numerous students as they crowded tables to fill out voter registration applications.

In 2013, Jackson introduced Senate Bill 113 which allows 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law the following year.

The registration is automatically activated after a person's 18th birthday, once they're the voting age.

The majority of the students who preregistered at the high school were first generation Latino Americans, whose parents immigrated to the United States.

Some students said they wanted to vote for the opportunity to make their voices heard on Capital Hill because they don't like the direction the country is headed under the current presidential administration.

"With our current president, Donald Trump, I don't like some of the stuff he says and I want to get him out," said 16-year-old Gina Rodriguez, who preregistered to vote on Wednesday so she can cast a ballot during the next presidential election in 2020. "I am trying to make a change by registering."

Rodriguez plans to be a lifetime voter and stay involved in politics, something that wasn't in her future until this past election. She said being an informed voter is important and she takes it seriously. 

"I want a better future for my family and my people," said 15-year-old Joel Diaz said about why he preregistered to vote, despite having to wait three years before he can actually cast a ballot.

Dozens of Santa Maria High School students preregistered to vote Wednesday. Click to view larger
Dozens of Santa Maria High School students preregistered to vote Wednesday.  (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

"It's something that is important to me. It's been important ever since our new president came (into office). Voting will at least make a change, because every vote makes a change."

Padilla told the gymnasium full of students the best way for them to create change and shape the future is through their voting power.

Prior to taking the microphone, Padilla told a group of reporters one of "the beautiful things about our democracy is that every voice matters and every voice is equal, but only when we register and when we cast our ballots.

"What most young people don't know is if they registered and voted at the same rates as everybody else, they would represent the biggest block of voters, not just in Santa Maria or California, but in the country," Padilla said.

"So the earlier we can plant that seed of civic responsibility and get a young person to vote in that first election after they turn 18, and the second election, the much more likely they are to be regular voters for the rest of their life."

The state education code has designated the last two full weeks in April and September as High School Voter Education Weeks, providing an opportunity to promote civic education and participation to cultivate lifelong voters and active citizens. 

Santa Maria High School social sciences department chair Caren Ray speaks during the High School Voter Education Week event Wednesday. Click to view larger
Santa Maria High School social sciences department chair Caren Ray speaks during the High School Voter Education Week event Wednesday.  (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)

Jackson, whose State Senate district includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County, said it's vitally important the country's youth not only register to vote but also show up at the polls on election days, as statistics also show 18-to-24-year-olds tend to not cast ballots.

"Our young people are not only our future, but democracy depends on everyone participating in deciding their government, in deciding what our values should be, how those values should be implemented," Jackson said.

"Young people are going to be the ones who have the greatest consequence of the decisions we make. The government is not the enemy. The government is us. A single vote in and of itself may not seem that important, but it truly is."

Statistics also show that in 2012, 62 percent of eligible 18-to-24-year-olds were registered to vote, compared to 80 percent of all eligible Californians.

California is one of 20 states that allows voter preregistration before the age of 18.

Eligible 16 and 17-year-olds can fill out the necessary paperwork by visiting the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles or through forms obtained at the county Registrar of Voters.

Noozhawk contributing writer April Charlton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

19th District State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Santa Maria High social sciences department chair Caren Ray speak to students about voter preregistration during Wednesday’s event. Click to view larger
19th District State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Santa Maria High social sciences department chair Caren Ray speak to students about voter preregistration during Wednesday’s event.  (April Charlton / Noozhawk photo)
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