Portland mayor hopes to spur voting by students

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PORTLAND — Mayor Ethan Strimling spent part of Tuesday morning urging students at Deering High School to register to vote.

He was there in support of a nationwide initiative designed to get young people to register in advance of this fall’s election. Strimling said his hope is to create a lifelong routine of voting in local youth.

That’s why he joined other mayors from across the country in signing on to the Mayors for Our Lives pledge.

It’s a program of the March for Our Lives student-led organization that developed out of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which led to the deaths of 17 people on Feb. 14.

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day and staff from the city clerk’s office were set to help students at Deering and Casco Bay high schools register to vote as requested by Strimling.

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters held a similar student voter registration drive at Portland High School last week, according to Barbara Kaufman, co-president of the Portland league.

She said the age restriction, which requires that students be 18 by Nov. 6, limited the number of new registrations to four, but Kaufman said general enthusiasm around the mid-term election is “really high,” among young people.

Voting is one of the best ways to make your voice heard, Kaufman said, adding that it’s not only important to encourage people to register but to actually cast a ballot, as well.

“I’m very pleased Portland is participating in Mayors for Our Lives,” Strimling said. “This is a great opportunity for young people to get engaged. I hope we register a lot” of students. “The earlier they start voting it becomes ingrained.”

“I see this as part of our continuing effort to bring more people into our democracy,” he added. “The more ways we can do that the better. Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than voting and the first step is making sure people are registered.”

“I am very pleased we are bringing the city clerk’s office into our schools so that young people have an opportunity to participate in their first election this fall,” Strimling said.

Gregg Palmer, the principal at Deering agreed, and said “educators believe in the importance of civic engagement and there’s no greater way to do that than by registering to vote. It’s the best way to have a voice.”

No students had signed up early on in the registration drive, but Palmer said he was hopeful that once they finished lunch, students would be interested in learning more and registering to vote.

Under Mayors for Our Lives, city leaders “will pledge to make registration forms readily available to all eligible students, maintain goals for registration, participate in get out the vote campaigns, collaborate with other mayors, and empower their communities to have their youth voices be heard during elections,” according to the organization website.

Strimling is so far the only mayor in Maine to officially sign on.

“Our goal is to help our younger voters with information as to how to register to vote and where their polling place is so they can vote on Election Day,” City Clerk Katherine Jones said.

There are four official parties in Maine, Democrat, Republican, Green Independent and Libertarian. Those registering to vote can also choose to remain unenrolled, which means they are only eligible to participate in a general election, not a primary.

She said her office generally tries to get out to the city’s high school to register students about once a year, but this year the drive has garnered more attention because it’s part of the Mayors for Our Lives push.

In order to register to vote, Jones said students must have a valid ID and provide proof of residency in Portland. She said the registration drive is strictly non-partisan and her staff does not advise students on what party to register with or how to vote.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling was at Deering High School Tuesday morning as part of a nationwide push to get students to register to vote. The hope is that by taking part early on, they will form a lifelong habit of voting.

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