Hazel Davalos, left, community organizing director for CAUSE, and Santa Maria Valley high school students lobbied the Board of Education to designate High School Voter Education Weeks. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Students at the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s four campuses will get lessons in registering to vote under a plan approved by the board Tuesday night.

After a request from a community organizer and students, the board adopted a resolution declaring the last two weeks of April and the last two weeks of September of this year as Voter Education Weeks.

“Voting for this voter education policy really sent a message to the community that the board cares about student civic engagement and it also sends a message to students that their voice and their vote matters,” said Hazel Davalos, community organizing director for the Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE.

She also expressed appreciation for the hands-on role of teachers in government classes where the voter registration information will be delivered. 

Several students who belong to the CAUSE Youth Committee also urged the board to vote for the resolution. 

Elizabeth Bautista, a senior at Santa Maria High School who recently turned 18, said she didn’t know where to sign up to vote or how to to do it until Davalos provided help.

“Santa Maria is actually bigger than Santa Barbara population wise, but about twice as many people in Santa Barbara voted in the last election than the people in Santa Maria,” Bautista said. 

Santa Maria has 46,000 residents eligible to vote compared to Santa Barbara’s 57,000 residents eligible to vote, she said.

Election data from 2014 shows that 31 percent of Santa Maria’s eligible voters cast ballots in 2014, compared to 46 percent for Santa Barbara. 

Turnout of registered voters for Santa Barbara was 59 percent compared to nearly 53 percent for Santa Maria. 

“It’s very important for the people to have their vote,” Bautista said.

It’s especially important this year since there is a presidential election in addition to school district board election in the fall, she said.

Only six of 10 eligible voters in Santa Maria and Guadalupe are registered, senior Abelardo Hernandez from Santa Maria High added. 

“We are one of the lowest cities for voter registration in the county,” he added. 

While voter registration is offered through the Department of Motor Vehicles, students from low-income families don’t acquire a driver’s license since they don’t have access to vehicles, said Gabriela Lopez, a senior at Pioneer Valley High School

“This would get more students involved in their community,” she added.

The students approached the board last month seeking to get the policy adopted. A similar effort is occurring in Oxnard, Davalos said. 

Assembly Bill 1817 was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown designating the last two weeks of April and the last two weeks of September as High School Voter Education Weeks

The California Secretary of State’s office encourages school districts to participate in voter registration activities since California law allows 17-year-olds to register to vote as long as they will be 18 before the next election.

The school district’s resolution noted “that the right to vote is one of the most important rights of citizenship in a democratic country.”

Government classes will spend time helping students register to vote and providing a context for the activity, the resolution noted.

“Fabulous,” board member Dr. Carol Karamitsos said after the board’s unanimous vote.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.