Inspire Nevada courts would-be young voters

Inspire Nevada is out to ensure youths’ voices are heard in politics. It’s recruiting leaders on high school campuses to speak to seniors and register them to vote.

West Career and Technical Academy senior Ambika Verma, 17, signed on when Inspire visited her school in late 2015. She uses social media and voter-registration drives at school to sign up those becoming eligible to vote. Not everyone appreciates the effort.

“A lot of kids are apathetic to our cause,” Verma said. “Last year, we had a couple kids actually rip up their forms in front of us.”

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, there are 1,019,287 registered voters in Clark County, and 766,536, or 75.18 percent, voted in the most recent presidential election. There are 577,679 registered Democrats, 488,861 registered Republicans and 304,528 registered as nonpartisan. The rest are registered with minor parties.

“Any organization can register people to vote, but that’s not what we’re about,” Verma said. “… We (look at), ‘Now that you’re registered, how can we help you get to the polls?’ ‘Do you understand who is running and what the issues are?’”

Inspire Nevada started in 2015 and Inspire US started in 2013. The organization is nonpartisan.

“Democrat versus Republican? It’s not about that. It’s about having the youth voice heard,” Verma said.

People in each generation look to make their mark in the world. Verma said she and her peers were interested in education and college affordability, as well as immigration and women’s rights.

Two other students are leading the effort at West Tech: Jon Andre Parrilla, 17, and Crysty-Ann Olaco, 18. Olaco said she got involved because “the youth vote is largely unrepresented and not taken as seriously as other voting age groups — not just in Nevada, but in the entire country.”

Parrilla used women’s-suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony as an example of one person championing a cause to get laws enacted.

“If we all get involved in our democracy then the government will better serve us,” Parrilla said.

Signing the Pledge to Vote is for students who have registered and would like to continue receiving election reminders. In January, for example, leaders reported what transpired at a Call to Action event at UNLV at which they met with Pat Skorkowsky, the Clark County superintendent, and Felicia Ortiz, a member of the Nevada Board of Education, Andy Hafen, the mayor of Henderson, Yvanna Cancela, state senator, Issac Barron, city council member, and Gail Anderson, deputy secretary of state.

Inspire is in 18 schools in Nevada; the goal is to be in 50. Each school has between one and five student leaders. Youth leaders work with school clubs so that when those clubs have events, Inspire has a presence.

“Having that smaller, close-knit group allows them to get more done,” said Ashley Stevens, program coordinator for Inspire.

The current drive began in September, when school began, and will end with the school year. Next year’s effort likely will start before the school year to include training so the school leaders (also called fellows) are up to par as soon as school begins. The current leaders will become alumni of Inspire once they graduate and can still help recruitment efforts.

Program coordinator Stephanie Scott estimated that Inspire is getting 100 to 150 students registered to vote each week. From September to March, the tally was 1,137 students. Only those who are 18 or close to their 18th birthday can register. At West Tech, May 24 is the last day registrations will be taken.

Canyon Springs High School student Kevin Castellanos, who is involved with Inspire, proposed a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to vote in Nevada Board of Education elections. Students at various schools get involved in politics as youth legislators.

The Legislature is in session, and one of the major issues lawmakers are addressing is whether people can be automatically registered to vote when they get their unrestricted driver’s licenses at age 18.

“This will be the first step in increasing the youth voice,” Scott said. “If this passes, our Inspire leaders will focus on getting their peers to the polls for local, state and national elections.”

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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