DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is visiting 70 Iowa schools this fall to encourage 17-year-olds to register to vote now, so they’re ready to cast a ballot when they turn 18.
“I kind of challenge them to go home and get their parents to be voters, too,” Pate says.
Pate’s office sponsors an annual contest. If 90% of eligible 17-year-olds in a high school register to vote, the school gets a trophy. “The first step is obviously getting registered,” Pate says. “It’s obviously a tutoring program, to some extent, but they’re quick learners.”
Pate spoke with students in a couple of West Des Moines Valley classes Monday and has dozens more school visits on his schedule today, which is National Voter Registration Day. So far, 86 Iowa schools have indicated they’re encouraging students to register to vote. “For many of them, they’re already in the real world. They’re working places. They’ll soon be graduating,” Pate says. “Their voice is important on issues.”
Iowa is one of nine states that let 17-year-olds submit voter registrations if they will be 18 by the time of the next election. Fifteen other states allow 16-year-olds to pre-register, so they’re ready to vote when they’re 18.
Pate says he reminds Iowa students about the Caucuses, since both of Iowa’s major state parties allow 17-year-olds to be full participants in the Caucuses if they’ll be 18 by the next General Election. “Politicians love a good photo op and if they want to make a photo op with you young people, why not let them know you’re a voter and what you want to see done better because you are a part of it,” Pate says, “and I hope that’s a message they take.”
As of today there are just over 3000 17-year-olds registered to vote in Iowa. Pate hopes the contest spurs at least 8000 more eligible 17-year-olds to go online and register.