Meet the Hume Fogg student behind the Tennessee Student Voter Act

Matthew Maroney goes to school just steps from the Tennessee State Capitol.

Well, it’s more like a half mile, but the eldest has made the trek several times in recent weeks from Hume Fogg University High School in Nashville while advocating on behalf of the Tennessee Student Voter Act.

More recently, Maroney made the march after listening to lawmakers debate the bill — a bill Maroney helped create.

The bill nearly made it to the full Senate, but failed in a House committee last week.

Although high school students may not learn as much about registering to vote — the intent of the failed bill — Maroney has learned a lot about the legislative process this year.

And he hasn’t finished yet.

The Tennessee Student Voters Act

Tennessee’s Student Voter Law, as originally written, would have required high schools to give students information on how to register to vote when they turn 18. years. It would also have allowed students to use their student ID to verify their identity at polling stations. and would have eliminated the requirement that people who registered by mail or online must vote in person the first time they vote.

The legislation was co-sponsored by Democratic Nashville Senator Heidi Campbell and Representative Vincent Dixie.

But Dixie told fellow lawmakers last week that the bill’s “real sponsors” were high school students like Maroney.

“They researched our voter registration, our turnout and our laws compared to other states,” Dixie said during an April 5 meeting of the House Local Government Committee meeting. “They’ve come up with invoicing language and even created a website to help publicize the work they do.”

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Tennessee State Representative Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, pictured during a press conference at the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville on May 7, 2019. Dixie co-sponsored the legislation that originated the Tennessee Student Voter Act alongside of State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville.  He praised the students behind the bill, calling them

Maroney first approached Campbell’s office last summer after attending a Zoom meeting with the senator and her legislative aide Beth Roth, hosted by Hume Fogg librarian Amanda Smithfield.

He already had an interest in public policy, fueled by his time on the school’s debate team and as vice president of the Hume Fogg Young Democrats.

He said they didn’t buy into the bill idea right away, but it was “during the kind of fever of Republican voter suppression bills tied to the 2020 election.”

“I knew Tennessee had really bad voter turnout numbers,” Maroney said. “And most people my age assume that registering to vote is more complicated and difficult than it is.”

He and a few classmates who contributed to the bill wanted to make it easier for 18-year-olds to enroll. Maroney wrote a policy brief “with a lot more ideas than what ended up in the bill”, but they focused on the most reasonable things they could get in the language of the project. of law.

“Humanized government for me”

Maroney said one of the most surprising things he learned throughout the process was how much work it took at the start – and how easily a bill was drafted.

“One of my main findings was the accessibility of the system to get the bill started. If people come forward proactively, email their local officials, and if they can get in touch with the good local leaders, they are really willing to work with young people to show them the ropes,” he said.

Campbell said Maroney did an amazing job crafting the legislation and preparing his comments during the session.

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Matthew Maroney poses for a portrait at the State Capitol in Nashville, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Maroney worked with lawmakers to help craft the key policy points behind the Tennessee Student Voter Act.  Maroney is a student at Hume Fogg University High School.

“One of the most amazing things was watching them go through the compromise and amendment process,” Campbell told the Tennessean. “It was the most rewarding legislative initiative I’ve had this session. It meant so much to me and so many people to see children run for parliament and participate in the process.”

She acknowledged that lawmakers don’t spend enough time working with students or the community throughout the legislation-drafting process, but she commended her Senate colleagues for their openness to working with students.

Campbell said it was disappointing that the legislation ultimately failed.

“It’s unfortunate to see partisan politics take over the process when students come in good faith and argue for something,” she said.

Tennessee State Senator Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, and her team worked with Hume Fogg University High School senior Matthew Maroney to draft the legislation, the Tennessee Student Voter Act, ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

But Maroney said he learned from interrogations and arguments from lawmakers, even opponents of the bill.

“It was really an eye-opener, not only to testify before the committees and be questioned by them, but also to observe them and see how they go about their business,” he said. “It really humanized government for me. You really see how government is a group of people who make very small decisions that ultimately affect you.”

Campbell isn’t sure if she or Maroney will try to revive Tennessee’s student voter law — “there’s always the next session,” she said.

Maroney will graduate this spring and while he hasn’t decided where he will go to college, he plans to study history and economics, public policy or even law.

He has no desire to be a politician, but he plans to “continue to work to expand democracy”.

“It’s something I plan to do,” he said.

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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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