SIBLEY—Scott Ruggles wanted students in his Sibley-Ocheyedan High School government class to take away two lessons from a recent class activity: How easy voter registration is and that young people can make a difference.
Seniors in the government class led a voter-registration drive during the lunch hour on Tuesday, Sept. 24, which coincided with National Voter Registration Day.
The social studies teacher said he had been speaking to the class the previous week about the importance of voting in a democratic society and the idea for the voting drive sprang from that discussion.
“I said, ‘You can change the world, literally.’ And then they got pretty excited, so we really threw it together in a couple days,” Ruggles said.
The class then set to work making posters to hang on a table they set up near the high school commons area to register fellow seniors. Registration was open to students who would be 18 years old by the Nov. 3, 2020, election.
To register eligible students, Ruggles said the class used a website where people can fill out a voter registration form. That form is printed off for students to sign and is then mailed to the county auditor’s office.
Ruggles’ students registered 18 out of about 45 students in the senior class to vote during the drive, including six students in the government class. He said he was proud of the turnout results and the difference his students made.
“You know, we adults, we say, ‘It’s not going to matter anyway.’ Well, now they know they made it matter because they added 18 voters to the roll,” Ruggles said. “There have been elections won with less.”
Students in the government class also commented on how simple the registration process was.
“We had quite a few people that signed up for it,” said senior Branigan Steichen. “It was really easy and a good way to be involved in our election process in our government.”
Kaleb Schutte, another senior in the class, thought the turnout of 18 people was good, especially considering this was the first year of the voting drive.
Students also echoed a point Ruggles said he frequently brings up during class: The relatively low rate at which 18- to 24-year-olds vote despite making up the largest population of eligible voters.
“You see that many of the voters are actually older people, whereas our vote, we have a greater, larger number of people that are our age that don’t vote,” said senior Citlali Ortiz. “Our vote is the one that matters the most because we’re going to be adults, so we’re going to be living with the consequences and the actions of the votes and how the election goes.”
The voter registration drive was nonpartisan in nature, with students being free to register under any political identity of their choosing.
“I tell them, ‘It’s no political party, we’re not promoting one person or the other. It’s the opportunity to vote, the greatest thing you can do as a citizen,’” Ruggles said.
He explained that is in keeping with his larger philosophy of teaching both sides of a given topic to students in his government class. When talking to them about current political topics, such as impeachment, Ruggles plays devil’s advocate to get them to consider the issue from multiple angles.
Ruggles plans to repeat the voter registration drive next year on Sept. 24 and said more planning ahead of time will hopefully lead to a greater number of students registering.
He also signed up for the school to enter the Carrie Chapman Catt Award, which Iowa secretary of state Paul Pate recently launched to recognize high schools that register at least 90 percent of eligible seniors to vote. Pate’s office will present the awards at the Iowa Youth Voter Summit on Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Wellmark YMCA in Des Moines. Schools that registered at least 50 percent of eligible seniors will likewise receive recognition.
Although Sibley-Ocheyedan High School did not meet the percentage goals this year, Ruggles said signing up the school for the award will give the school access to voter registration resources to help plan future voter registration efforts.