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“Everyone get your voting stickers out,” a student yelled, pointing to one already stuck to the front of his KIPP University Prep sweater.
About 70 students clumped together on the front steps of the Bexar County Elections Department building Tuesday morning for a picture after casting the first ballots of their voting careers. Some waved yellow sample ballots in the air while others showcased their own “I Voted” stickers, signifying the day’s main event.
The first-time voters are seniors at KIPP University Prep high school, many of them newly 18. Texas high schools are required to offer registration applications to eligible voters, and the students who voted Tuesday registered to cast ballots in their first election on National Voter Registration Day in September.
Erika Prosper, chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and wife of Mayor Ron Nirenberg, spoke to KIPP students before they boarded the bus to the election site and told them how important voting was to be an engaged society member.
“I think the [issue] for a lot of these kids is fear. Like, what does this mean and how is it going to be?” Prosper said. “So even just bringing them, even the ones that didn’t have the proper paperwork, I think the fear is gone. They can now come back with confidence.”
Waiting in line for the voting booths, students used Google to search for unfamiliar candidates while others read through the small text on the 16-page ballot.
“It was overwhelming and really long,” senior Emily Campos said of the ballot, describing the build-up to her time in the voting booth as “nerve-wracking.”
Senior Octavio Santin, who was surprised at the existence of what he called an “autofill option” that allows voters to cast a straight ticket ballot, helped his peers make their final decisions. After doing his own research, Santin explained propositions to alter the City’s charter and told his peers whom he planned on supporting.
Santin was one of the KIPP students especially excited to exercise his civic responsibility. The senior is interested in studying political science in college and said he wanted to register and cast a ballot because of a few select issues, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and better funding for schools.
Prior to Tuesday, KIPP teachers talked about the importance of voting but didn’t broach which candidates to support, he said. Classes did participate in debates about current issues such as the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which helped foster discussion and develop political values and ideals.
One of Santin’s teachers told him to look at credible journalism sources for more information on candidates.
“I’m really big on history, so a big part of [wanting to vote] is looking at a lot of the political processes and the decisions that have been made throughout the course of U.S. history, and that was really interesting to me,” Santin said. “The current political climate I found interesting, and I would really like to add my voice.”
In Texas, state law requires high school deputy registrars to distribute a registration application at least twice a year to each student who will be 18 or older during that year.
The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report in July stating that only 34 percent of Texas high schools requested the forms from the Secretary of State. This is the “key first step” in complying with the registration law, the report states.
Last school year, more than 400,000 students in Texas high schools were 17 or 18 years old. During the November 2016 election, young voters ages 18 to 24 comprised the smallest group of registered voters in Texas and the group with the lowest voting rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
In the current election cycle, more than 1.1 million Bexar County residents are registered to vote, with the Bexar County Elections Department processing more than 22,000 applications from hopeful new voters.