Student Voting Legislation

Students Work to Make Voting Easier for Others
Posted on 03/25/2022
student voting

An MNPS student played a key role in crafting state legislation that would give high school students more information about voting and should inspire more of them to register.


Matthew Maroney, a senior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet HighM Maroney School, worked with State Senator Heidi Campbell on a bill that would require Tennessee high schools to let eligible students know when they turn 18 that they’re eligible to vote. As originally written, the Tennessee Student Voter Act also would have authorized college students' use of ID cards issued by accredited Tennessee colleges and universities for verification at polling places, and it would have eliminated the requirement that people who have registered to vote by mail or online must vote in person before they can vote by absentee ballot.


Matthew said he was inspired to get involved after attending a Zoom meeting Campbell held with students last spring and following up with her office during the summer. He had heard many friends and classmates express their reservations about registering to vote.


“They associate politics with all of government and think it’s super complicated,” he said.


Matthew testified at a meeting of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on March 22 and plans to be back at the Capitol next Wednesday to speak to the House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee.


“Tennessee is underperforming on voter participation, and getting young people involved in civic life while they’re still young can build a foundation of active voters and citizens for the state’s future,” he told the Senate committee. “This bill takes commonsense steps many other states have already taken to simplify the process of voting for students.”


Campbell, a Nashville Democrat, said Matthew and the other students who worked on the legislation are its “real sponsors.”

“They did the research on our voter registration and turnout numbers and reviewed our laws in comparison to other states,” she told her colleagues before Matthew was introduced to speak. “They came up with the bill language and even built a website to help spread awareness about the work they were doing.


“As we all know, voter participation in Tennessee is low … After researching the issue and writing a policy brief that would make any high school government teacher proud, the students behind the Tennessee Student Voter Act concluded that one reason for that is that we make it harder for young people to vote.”


Matthew said that policy brief was broader at first, but the team worked to narrow it down to the most strategic provisions and limit its fiscal impact on the state.


“My expectations definitely needed to be tempered,” he recalled with a laugh.


Two other MNPS students also contributed to the effort. Hillsboro High School junior Avery Roth built the website and most of its content, and Hume-Fogg sophomore Katie Rush Walker attended the Senate committee hearing with Matthew.


Matthew said he was pleased to see how “affable” the senators were and gratified that the committee came back a day later to pass the legislation with an amendment, which further narrowed it to the requirement that high schools inform eligible 18-year-olds of their voting rights while eliminating the student ID card and absentee voting provisions for the time being. Matthew said he knew it was unlikely that every piece of the original bill would go through.


“This is how government works,” said Senator Page Walley, a Republican from Bolivar in west Tennessee. “A lot of times you get some of what you want, not all of what you want. But that’s what’s so encouraging: You come back and you continue to advocate for your beliefs.”


Matthew plans to go to college – he hasn’t decided where yet – after graduating from Hume-Fogg in a couple of months and expects to study history, economics and/or public policy. He might go to law school after college.


But he’s already getting quite an education from the combination of his high school classes and his extracurricular work on voting legislation.


“I learned how much work it takes to get people interested in something,” he said. “It’s been interesting to see how much front-end work is necessary to get something like this started.”

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