Nicole Beres saw young people were underrepresented when looking at voter turnout data. This didn’t add up with what she knew about her peers: They care about what is happening in the world around them.
So, the Southlake Carroll Senior High School junior started a Student Voter Empowerment Club at her campus after talking with a friend in Dallas who started a similar group.
“Something that I found in learning more about this issue is that it wasn’t really due to apathy, or younger people not really caring about politics,” Beres said. “It’s more due to a lack of civic education, and a lack of instruction on things like how to go to the polls, how to learn about your elected officials, when to register to vote, things like that.”
Southlake’s high school club is one of almost two dozen at North Texas schools that are getting students – some before they’re old enough to vote – involved in local elections and encouraging others to join them.
Student Voter Empowerment Clubs are part of an initiative by March to the Polls, a nonpartisan organization working to increase electoral participation in underrepresented communities.
The purpose of the high school clubs is to reach student voices, which are historically underrepresented in the electoral process, said Jessica Lugo, March to the Polls regional program manager. March to the Polls aims to give students the tools to become more civically engaged and recognize the power of their voice.
“I have found that students really have this untapped potential and power to make a huge difference in their communities — and not just in their schools, but in their neighborhoods and cities and states,” Lugo said. “I think they’ve been told over and over that their voice isn’t as prominent because they’re young, and that’s a narrative that we want to change.”
It started with a free slice of pizza.
That’s all it took for Moksha Davaloor to attend her first Student Voter Empowerment Club meeting. Once she and her classmates at Carroll Senior High started discussing voter trends and analyzing voter data, she was hooked.
Within weeks, she was moderating a panel with the school board for her fellow students.
Davaloor is a junior and joined her school’s club with her friend, Beres, who helped start the club after talking to a friend in Dallas who was involved in a local Student Voter Empowerment Club.
They’ve hosted voter registration drives, forums, written to and called elected officials and made a trip to Austin.
At the Texas Capitol, students got to meet elected officials and see bills debated on the floor. Students meet monthly to discuss voter empowerment and civic engagement, Beres said.
The main goal of the clubs is for the students to find policy and voter registration information and then serve campus and community experts for their peers, Lugo said.
Some students had to get creative with how they engaged with students.
Tulsi Lohani currently is a freshman at Southern Methodist University but graduated from Trinity High School in Euless.
Lohani is from Nepal, where his family was involved in politics and law, so he remained civically engaged in the U.S., too. When his campus started its local student voter club, the COVID-19 pandemic shut schools down.
They had to pivot strategy, but Lohani still tried to get students out to vote. Lohani spent a lot of time gathering reading material about candidates and policies to share so students can be informed voters, he said. The club also made videos and sent them to history teachers to use in lessons.
Olivia Castillo joined the Fort Worth Paschal High School club in 2021 when it hosted a mayoral candidate forum. She now attends the University of Texas at Austin and recalls researching questions for the candidates and inviting them to join.
But the clubs are aware that many students on campus can’t vote yet, and Castillo said they still found ways to get them involved — like calling legislators about bills that session.
“Legislators always told me that it takes like five calls from constituents for them to reconsider something or to look into something,” Castillo said. “It’s not that much. If you could organize a group of five students, even though you can’t vote, you still have a lot of power.”
‘The biggest misconception is that we don’t care’
Even if they aren’t old enough to vote, students know what’s happening in Austin and Washington, D.C., impact their lives, and they want to be heard. One example is curriculum, Castillo said. The State Board of Education, parents and business representatives get to review curriculum, but not students.
“They’re just making a lot of decisions about our education, and things that affect our school — like vouchers — and they don’t really get that much student input,” Castillo said. “I spoke to some Legislators and they were like, ‘Yeah, no student has talked to us about some of these issues you are raising.’ I feel like our schools will look a lot different if students had more input in the school board and the State Board of Education and politics.”
The biggest misconception about students is that they don’t care about politics, Lohani said. People his age care about economic security and want to see the minimum wage increase. They also care about access to safe abortions, he said.
Young people also care about human rights, Davaloor said. Another topic of interest was the taxing of period products.
They also care about book bans, restricting voting locations on college campuses, Beres said.
In her experiences working with young people, Lugo said voter turnout numbers don’t reflect how much students care.
“They’re passionate about a lot of issues like school safety, the cost of college, the environment and what it will look like when they are adults and bringing children into the world,” Lugo said. “On a more local level they’re concerned about state testing and what that looks like for them.”
They care about the needs of their communities, she said.
“They’re worried about the rising costs of homes and rent for their families,” Lugo said. “Many of them are having to work as the cost of living rises to help their families.”
March to the Polls aims to give them resources, and hope, Lugo said.
“They really are passionate about it and they really do care about it so much,” Lugo said. “It’s really inspiring to work with them.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.