As the chief election officer in each state, secretaries of state have a critical investment in civic education and youth engagement. The development of civic knowledge, skills and dispositions has a strong impact in effectively preparing young people for active involvement in the democratic process and on their voting participation. Secretaries are increasingly finding that special initiatives that bolster civic education dovetail with their goals to promote voter registration, information and participation.
Last week, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch launched a new interactive civic engagement website that connects K-12 students with enjoyable civics activities and leaders. Students gain civic education knowledge of the state constitution and elections process through fun games, quizzes and even an opportunity to ’build your own great seal.” I was torn between the Montana state grizzly bear or the Beartooth Mountains as the central feature for my own great seal.
Montana’s interactive site launches as a new Knight Foundation report, Why Millennials Don’t Vote for Mayor: Barriers and Motivators for Local Voting, examines the need to overcome barriers and increase engagement and civic learning to reverse the trend in youth voting. The survey identifies confusion about the voting process and lack of social norms of voting and civic engagement as central reasons for low millennial youth voter turnout in recent elections.
It is encouraging to see secretaries of state address the crisis in youth civic voting through creative initiatives that typically extend beyond their own terms in office. Numerous examples are provided in a 2014 brief from the Education Commission of the States’ National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement (NCLCE). Civics Initiatives of Secretaries of State highlights a variety of resources and educational tools, ranging from interactive websites to curriculum, contests, toolkits and student-led voter registration drives, which can have a significant and lasting impact on youth voting.
The Knight Foundation report delivers sobering news about millennial trust and participation in civics and voting, but NCLCE is helping to equip education leaders to address the challenges identified, outlining strategies and options for action. A critical element of that support is highlighting and encouraging successful practices, such as those reviewed in the NCLCE report. Congratulations to Secretary McCulloch on the new Montana civic engagement website.
Jan Brennan is a project specialist for the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement. She is new to the team after previously worked as project director for El Sistema Colorado. Don’t hesitate to say hello: firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 299.3661.