When Eli Dreyer and Gabriella Epley decided to encourage their classmates at Lexington’s Lafayette High School to register to vote, they weren’t sure how many people they could engage.
They ended up with a 100 percent voter registration rate among eligible students. In the last two years, the two registered 770 students to vote.
“It was really about making a connection directly to our peers ,” said Epley. “It was about community outreach and being able to communicate with people better. "
Dreyer said they developed a plan to speak to all junior and senior English classes because those are a requirement for every student. They used materials from a group that encourages student voting called Inspire Kentucky.
They conducted drives during lunch and before and after school. They set up tables at school entrances and exits with heavy traffic keeping in mind, said Dreyer, that “high schoolers value their free time."
"The majority wouldn’t go out of their way while they were socializing with their friends to go register to vote so we made it as convenient as possible," he said.
The students said they faced little resistance from their classmates.
“The way that I explained it to them was that this doesn’t say you have to go out and vote, it just says they have that option if they feel passionate about a topic," said Dreyer.
Dreyer set up a booth to register students on March 14 when as many as 1,000 students at Lafayette in a walkout joined their peers across the city, state and the nation to demand Congress take action to stop gun violence in the aftermath of this year's school shootings.
Epley said Lafayette's staff supported their efforts throughout.
“Our principal was incredibly helpful in letting us do all of this, all of the teachers were so helpful. I think they just really want us to succeed and they are excited to see that young people are really passionate about something and sort of coming out of this image of apathy," she said.
They also received support from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who recognized the voter registration efforts during Dreyer's graduation practice this week.
Dreyer wants to continue his voter registration movement at DePaul University in Chicago where he will attend this fall.
Epley graduated from Lafayette last school year and is continuing her voter registration efforts at Berea College, where she is now a student. She is working on a drive in which students and parents can register to vote when they arrive on Berea’s campus in the fall.
The activism at Lafayette reflects a national trend. More young people said they felt politically empowered in the latest Youth Political Pulse survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV.
The Associated Press reported this week that more than 1,000 schools across the country are registering young voters in hallways and cafeterias and graduation ceremonies in efforts aimed at electing lawmakers who support gun reforms in response to school shootings.