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Voter Registration Pitch Made to More Than 20K NYC High School Students

By Emily Frost | March 18, 2016 3:29pm | Updated on March 21, 2016 8:54am
 Kelvin Fabian, 17, and Raiquan Brewington, 17, far right, talked with City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal about voting Friday at a voter registration event aimed at students. Both are students at Urban Assembly for Green Careers, a small high school on West 84th Street.
Kelvin Fabian, 17, and Raiquan Brewington, 17, far right, talked with City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal about voting Friday at a voter registration event aimed at students. Both are students at Urban Assembly for Green Careers, a small high school on West 84th Street.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — "Your vote could decide who's the next president," Kelvin Fabian, 17, told his classmates Friday at a voter registration drive that targeted high schoolers across the city.

Fabian is one of 21,000 students at 65 public high schools in the city who received a pitch from a coalition of non-profits, teachers and City Councilmembers to register to vote. Those involved are predicting that at least 16,000 students will register. They'll have the final outcome Monday.

This student voter registration day is a radical change from how things used to be done: high schoolers received a voter registration application in a mailed envelope that also included their diploma after school was out for the year.

 Kelvin Fabian, 17, Jairo Escalant, 17, and Raiquan Brewington, 17, spent time learning about voter registration Friday. Fabian and Escalant fall within the eligibility parameters in terms of age and so registered to vote.
Kelvin Fabian, 17, Jairo Escalant, 17, and Raiquan Brewington, 17, spent time learning about voter registration Friday. Fabian and Escalant fall within the eligibility parameters in terms of age and so registered to vote.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

"I used to joke 'I hope that the kids at least recycle [the registration form,]'" said City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who found the old method sorely lacking and made it her goal to get a new citywide youth voter registration system in place. 

Last year, in a pilot program Rosenthal organized, 3,000 high schoolers received the voter registration pitch. This year, the program received $200,000 in City Council funding after Rosenthal lobbied her colleagues to vote for it as a 2016 budget item.

The funding allowed a more organized campaign, including ads at bus stops near high schools, an official PSA on Youtube, swag like buttons and stickers to promote the effort and training for the groups who helped deliver the curriculum on why voting is important, she said. 

Fabian, a student at Urban Assembly for Green Careers on West 84th Street, said all the media coverage of the presidential election "brought to my mind that maybe I should vote." 

Donald Trump's campaign in particular is "stressing me out," from the way protesters have been roughed up at his rallies to his plan to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, he said. 

The process of registering was surprisingly easy and not something he would have done had the form just come in the mail, said Fabian. 

"I thought it was going to be so complicated," he said, but added that having people — teachers, non-profit staffers — on hand to answer questions made all the difference. 

Through this process, you could "do it all in one shot," said Jairo Escalant, 17, who also attends Urban Assembly for Green Careers. 

Both said they were planning to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the upcoming New York City primary because of his plan to make college education free. They're worried about being saddled with debt, they said. 

Rosenthal said she's happy that the presidential election is a motivating factor for students to register, but hopes they'll take their civic interest to the local level.

Only 11 percent of young people, categorized as ages 18 to 30, voted in the last mayoral election, something she'd like to see change, she said. 

"They don't even know what voice they have," she said. 

When people get invested in local leaders, "they keep their electeds' feet to the fire," said Rosenthal. 

As long as you will be turning 18 this calendar year, you can register to vote this year. 

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