Holding his youngest son, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla encourages L.A. Unified students to register to vote. (Photo by Phillip Verbera)

Holding his youngest son, Secretary of State Alex Padilla encourages L.A. Unified students to register to vote. Click the image to see a video of Padilla. (Photo by Phillip J. Verbera)

Hoping to build on the groundswell of young people registering to vote in this year’s election, Secretary of State Alex Padilla “deputized” nearly 200 L.A. Unified students on Saturday, asking them to sign up 2,000 of their classmates in time to cast a ballot in the June 7 primary.

The event signaled the launch of LA Youth Vote, an empowerment campaign organized by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and other civic groups. Students from more than a dozen campuses across the District spent the day at Maya Angelou Community School, learning not only the mechanics of the registration process, but the importance of exercising their right to vote.

“Maybe you think your community is just fine, and everything is perfect. That’s your reason to vote to keep it that way,” Padilla told the students. “But maybe there are some issues in your community and something needs to change for the better. That should be the reason to register and vote.”

Padilla and Los Angeles County Clerk/Recorder Dean Logan each noted that voter registration has surged since January, thanks to interest in the presidential election, with 42 percent of new sign-ups coming from ages 18-29. But they also noted that Election Day turnout is among young people is historically low, and a worrisome trend they hope to reverse.

Dr. Brenda Manuel and County Registrar/Recorder Dean Logan are working to boost student participation in the electoral process.

Dr. Brenda Manuel and County Registrar/Recorder Dean Logan are working to boost student participation in the electoral process.

“We need to talk about the power of voting,” Logan said. “The reality is that when you cast your ballot, you have an equal voice with every other voter who is participating in the election. When you don’t use that voice, you give it away to someone else. You also have the power as a student leader to build that voice. You’re the ones who are making a difference.”

Many of the students volunteering for LA Youth Vote will not be old enough to vote in this year’s primary or general elections, but that didn’t deter them from their mission of getting others to register.

“We need our voices to be heard,” said Arlette Garduno, a junior, and one of about a dozen students from the Public Service Academy at Narbonne High School who attended the training session. “Not many people register and vote, and then they complain about the outcome. That’s just not right.”

Students from the Public Service Academy at Narbonne High will be signing up classmates to vote.

Students from the Public Service Academy at Narbonne High will be signing up classmates to vote.

Added Narbonne sophomore Esmerelda Cortez, “Our opinions do matter, and we can change things for the better.”

In addition to its partnership with LA Youth Vote, the District has been working on its own to encourage students and families to exercise their right to vote. The Board of Education passed a resolution earlier this month, directing staff to make voter guides and voting materials available to students and families at schools and parent centers.

“Students want to be involved and engaged in the world because this is their life,” said Dr. Brenda Manuel, who heads the District’s Student Unit. “It’s up to us to show them how to be part of the political process as part of being the best they can be.”

Padilla and Logan took their message to Crenshaw High on Monday, joining Dr. George J. McKenna, the school board vice president and a co-sponsor of the resolution encouraging students to vote.

Dr. George McKenna speaks to students at a voter registration assembly at Crenshaw High.

Dr. George McKenna speaks to students at a voter registration assembly at Crenshaw High. (Photo by Jewett Walker Jr.)

“Having grown up in a community in Louisiana where African-Americans were excluded from voting, I cannot overemphasize the importance of the ballot,” McKenna said. “People lost their lives so that we can vote.”

Padilla has been making appearances at schools around L.A. Unified – including his alma mater, San Fernando High – encouraging students who begin what he hopes will become a lifelong practice of participating in the electoral process. If all young people registered and voted, he said, they would become the largest voting bloc in Los Angeles County and all of California – and wield incredible political clout.

“You tell me what you think all the candidates would be talking about if they knew that the biggest number of voters were young people,” he said as he wrapped up his speech. “Would they be talking about different issues? Would they maybe have different positions on those issues? It can happen when young people get involved.”

Students from more than a dozen schools signed up as LA Youth Vote volunteers. (Photo by Phillip J. Verbera)

Students from more than a dozen schools signed up as LA Youth Vote volunteers. (Photo by Phillip J. Verbera)

The deadline is May 23 to vote in the June 7 primary; and Oct. 24 to cast a ballot in the general election on Nov. 8.  U.S. citizens who will be 18 on Election Day are eligible to register. Forms are available at Department of Motor Vehicle offices, libraries and the post office, or on the Secretary of State’s website.

“There is a strong desire by young people to make decisions that connect them to the world,” said Elmer Roldan, who oversees the United Way’s education programs. “They bring new energy to the voting process because it provides them with an avenue to their future.”