Red Lion exceeds expectations for student-led voter registration

Jacob Taylor of the York College Conservative Forum mans a voter registration booth in the Student Union building during lunch recently. Voter registration has become a partisan issue.

Jacob Franciscus said it was important for his voice — and the voice of other students — to be heard following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

"I kind of noticed that both sides of the aisle in Washington were ignoring the student body," he said.

After seeing little response to students after other recent shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, he wanted to get his peers involved.

It spurred him to help his high school register students to vote in the May 21 primary, and thanks to his efforts with the student council, Red Lion Area Senior High School won a Governor's Civic Engagement Award this year.

The award was presented April 29 to 10 high schools in central and northeast Pennsylvania for registering at least 65% of eligible students to vote, according to a news release.

Eight schools received Gold Level awards for registering 85% or more, and two schools including Red Lion earned Silver Level awards for registering at least 65%, the release states.

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About 75% of Red Lion's senior class — roughly 190 students — were registered, said student council adviser Jane Dennish.

Franciscus, 18, who worked with Gianna Dovelle, 17, and Isaiah Morales, 16, to lead the efforts of the 45 student council members, said the group was not expecting to get the award its first year.

They found out about the award in March and only had until April 22 to turn in paperwork, Dennish said.

The feedback was "shockingly positive," and that energy drove the council to keep at it, Franciscus said. Students have experienced gun violence and climate change firsthand and want to speak out, he said.

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Dennish said student interest is greater now than in the past, with a recently created Red Lion politics club and social media allowing students to become more knowledgeable, but many don't understand the voting process.

That's where the student council comes in — visiting social studies classes and homerooms to explain how registration works and the benefits of choosing a party to vote in the primary.

The primary probably affects students the most because it involves local school board members, mayors and other community officials who directly impact them, she said.

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"I think our generation is kind of starting to notice that we’re capable of significant change and we’re capable of becoming the change that, quite honestly, generations haven’t seen for quite some time," Franciscus said.

The GCEA, which is in its second year, encourages student participation in voting, and the award is presented by the Pennsylvania Departments of State and Education and the governor’s office, in collaboration with Inspire U.S., the release states.

A total of 3,109 eligible students were registered this year, beating last year's total of 2,955 eligible students, according to the release.