RegiStart program helping high school students sign up to vote
A Naperville North High School grad returned to his alma mater Monday with a way to help get more 18-year-olds registered to vote using technology, social networking and the power of peers.
Sean van Dril is the founder of RegiStart, which he describes as "a digital program to help high schoolers register seniors to vote."
He's a 2013 Naperville North graduate who went on to Northwestern University to study mechanical engineering, and realized along the way he has a passion for politics. And he has spent the past eight months building RegiStart as a web-based system to help high school students become voter registration experts and persuade their peers to sign up.
During a campaign in which he worked for now-Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, van Dril said he gained some insight into what works -- and what doesn't -- when it comes to registering young people. Not highly effective, he said, is the process of a stranger reaching out to ask a teen to register. But the same request tends to be much more successful when it comes from a friend.
So when van Dril introduced the RegiStart program to students in Tim Johnson's urban history class, the seniors logged in and listed the names of many of their friends.
"The program is able to map the social network at a high school so that we're optimizing who every student reaches out to," van Dril said. "The goal is to get every single student that is eligible in the senior class registered to vote."
At Naperville North, which van Dril hopes will be the first of many schools to run RegiStart, his goal is to have the entire senior class of nearly 700 registered in two weeks.
Students didn't get to the actual registering Monday, but when they do, van Dril said, it takes roughly two minutes to complete online.
Each of the 40 students in two sections of the urban history class will start by trying to register a minimum of 10 of their friends as a class assignment, Johnson said, and organizers hope the effort will spread from there. If they feel uncomfortable asking peers to sign up, he said, they can complete an alternate assignment instead.
Much of the asking could take place through social media, with students customizing a script RegiStart provides to match what feels natural for them.
"It ties into how they run their lives," Johnson said.
Students said they think the RegiStart program offers a good way to take a step toward civic involvement.
"If we do this right, it will help more people register and vote," Justin Stewart said.
For students who are quick to criticize politicians, Kai Banks said, voting is one way to push for change.
"If they have a lot to say, it's only right to go vote," he said.
Johnson said he's passionate about encouraging people to vote, and if RegiStart works well for signing up students at Naperville North, he hopes to use a statewide network of government club advisers to spread it across Illinois.
"In America, we have an opportunity to take part in our government," student Danny Lapham said, "and I think it's important that we do so."