Today across Chicago, city teens will skip school — with good reason. Illinois’ new “suffrage at 17 law” will allow 17-year-olds turning 18 by the Nov. 4 general election an excused absence to vote in the primary. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, almost 9,000 teens — 4,000 of whom are 17 have registered to vote since Jan. 1 when the law took effect. While that number falls short of the board’s stated goal of 30,000 students, Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Election Board, calls the effort historic: “We’re proud to have so many young people who can make history this election,” Neal said.
At Harlan Community Academy on Chicago’s South Side, civics teacher Robert Pincham also set out to make history. His goal was to not only get his students registered to vote, but to also get them engaged in their community. In his law class, almost all of his students are registered, and Pincham says one student registered a record 30 people on her own.
“Voting is a fundamental, not just a right, but a duty,” Pincham says. “And students that leave high school without having the experience of voting leave handicapped.”
Pincham is offering students extra credit for registering to vote and many have taken the extra step of becoming election judges. After training, election judges earn $170 to monitor polling place conduct.