Article City Forum Alex Padilla

Connecting Youth With Democracy

Alex Padilla is California secretary of state, a former council member for the city of Los Angeles, a former legislator and a past president of the League. He can be reached at

It’s never too early to get our youth engaged in the democratic process. That’s why my office sponsors programs each year to inform students about upcoming elections while providing unique hands-on opportunities to participate. Students can pre-register to vote, participate in a mock election and even get paid to be a poll worker.

Pre-Registering Makes Voting Easier

Young people have the potential to be a powerful force in elections, but only if they get involved and make voting a habit. To encourage students to be active voters once they are old enough to cast a ballot, we launched online pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds in 2017. Pre-registration does not change the voting age, which is 18. Instead, it allows eligible Californians ages 16 or 17 to complete the online voter registration form, thus providing sufficient time and opportunity to get ready to vote. Their voter registration automatically becomes active on their 18th birthday. Pre-registration is easy. Students can visit and complete the voter pre-registration application. Since the program was launched in March 2017, more than 80,000 students have pre-registered.

Activities Help Build Students’ Interest in Civic Engagement

Encouraging youth participation in our democracy requires collaboration among parents, teachers and schools statewide. That’s why we partner with the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office twice a year to promote civic engagement and voter registration through High School Voter Education Weeks. During the last two weeks of April and September, school districts provide information about voter registration and upcoming elections to each of their students. Over the past three years, I’ve visited dozens of high schools throughout California and spoken with over 13,000 excited students who are eager to get involved.

For students who prefer to learn by doing, we invite high school and middle school students, teachers and principals to participate in the California Student Mock Election, which will take place in fall 2018, for the gubernatorial general election. Students get to experience voter participation up close by casting a mock ballot for candidates on the California Gubernatorial ballot. It’s a practical way to educate young people about the importance of civic participation. 

High School Poll Workers Gain Experience

For students who want a behind-the-scenes look at election administration, we invite eligible high school students to serve as poll workers on Election Day. Student poll workers learn firsthand how elections are run and provide much- needed support at polling place locations. They end their day with a better understanding of the importance of voting and the vital role poll workers play in making our elections run smoothly.

County elections officials may assign up to five high school students to serve as poll workers in each election precinct. Students work under the direct supervision of appointed adult poll workers.

  • To serve as a high school poll worker, a student must:
  • Be a U.S. citizen and at least 16 years old on Election Day;
  • Attend a public or private high school;
  • Have at least a 2.5 grade point average;
  • Get permission from their parents and school; and
  • Attend a training session.

Student poll workers also receive a stipend that generally ranges between $65 and $150, depending on the county. To encourage high school students to serve as poll workers, the secretary of state invites students, teachers, school activities directors and others to post, email or hand out the high school poll worker recruitment flyer.

We take public education and engagement seriously, including for our young Californians. We will continue to work with partners statewide to find new and innovative ways to connect our youth with their democracy.

Related Resources

Online pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds:

High School Poll Worker recruitment flyer

Photo credits: California Secretary of State’s Office

This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Western City
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