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Politics & Government

Report: Dallas High Schools Should Be Registering Students to Vote

A Texas law requires high schools to give voting-age students a chance to register. It is mostly ignored.

Dallas is bad at voting. Really bad at voting. Worst in the country bad at voting, with the lowest turnout for municipal elections of any big city in the U.S. That apathy—or disillusionment, or lack of access stemming from intentional voter suppression, take your pick—becomes even more pronounced when you look at young voters. One reason for that, a report from the Texas Civil Rights Project suggests, is that Texas high schools aren’t doing their duty to register 18-year-old students newly endowed with the legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

That goes against a state law calling for high school principals to act as registrars for students who will be of voting age on election days, in part, the report says, because many schools and teachers don’t even know about said law. Another hitch is that school officials have to request voter registration forms from the Secretary of State. Between October 2016 and February 2018, only 28 percent of Texas high schools with more than 20 seniors requested those forms. That number rises to 34 percent when you account for the fact that school districts themselves can put in a request. Shout-outs are in order for the Garland, Wylie, McKinney, and Lewisville ISDs, all of which took an interest in engaging their students in the democratic process. Highland Park High School is working to get its kids to the polls, too.

The picture is a little more dire in Dallas ISD, where the A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School in Oak Cliff and the Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro appear to be the only schools that requested voter registration forms from the Secretary of State.

Update: Rene Martinez, vice president of LULAC Council 100 in Dallas, called to say that his organization, working with Temple Emanu-El, and under the auspices of Dallas ISD and the Dallas County Elections Department, has spent the last couple years registering several thousand voters at high schools through the Dallas school district. He says volunteers will continue to visit local high schools for voter registration drives before the Oct. 6 deadline to register to vote in this year’s general election.

An easy fix to the problem, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, is for the Secretary of State to just supply high schools with voter registration forms. Don’t make them ask. The current system for deputy voter registrars at high schools, as this report illustrates, is hopelessly confusing. Making it easier for young people to register to vote doesn’t necessarily mean they will vote (or, some will argue, should vote), but it’s a start. Build good habits early and all that.

The Texas Civil Rights Project put together a Google Map showing which high schools complied with the voter registration law. Green dots are schools that requested forms. Red dots are schools that did not. Yellow dots are schools in districts that did request forms. Check it out below:

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