Youth voting numbers are down

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By Daniela Gomez 

Youth need to start to realize that we must take the initiative in changing how we rule our democracy!” — Karina Ezparza, 17 

The nation’s youth are registering and voting in disturbingly low numbers. So what causes low youth voter turnout and why should young people register to vote?

The 2018 voter registration numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 49.1 percent were registered to vote, but only 32.4 percent actually reported voting in 2018.

What happened to the younger people who registered but did not show up to vote?

Voting is an American right, given to the people so they can properly exercise democracy. It’s worth examining why the rates of youth voter turnout and registration aren’t higher, even though young people make up almost one-quarter of the population.

Youth Service America, an organization that works to encourage youth participation in democracy and educates them on voting, describes the core reasons youth don’t register to vote. Young voters are not as encouraged by candidates or their families to participate in voting, the organization says. And because young people vote less often, they are more likely to not be targeted by candidates, creating a vicious cycle of low youth voter turnout and registration. Candidates decide not to focus their campaigns on young voters because they don’t seem to vote — this continues the cycle of excluding young voters. Yet Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an ex-presidential candidate, built his campaign on young voters, allowing for them to get involved.

Youth Service America says young people may also be unaware of the process of registering and voting. They are not taught how to participate in elections. Many often become confused when deciding on a candidate, which leads them to opt to not vote.

Voting itself also creates barriers that stop young voters. It takes a long time to do. Many young voters don’t know where polling places are located. They might miss registration deadlines. Or they don’t even know how to register. These barriers lead to low voter registration and turnout among our youth citizens.

It’s also true that a good amount of young people do not express an interest in politics. Many believe their vote won’t make a difference. They believe that their choice won’t have a huge impact on society.

Statistics from Census Gov report that only 61.4% of eligible 18- to 24-year-old voters cast ballots in the 2016 election. That shows that 39.6% of eligible young voters didn’t show up and vote.

Youths’ perspectives on registration and voting are starting to be discussed among younger people in Monterey County. Kassandra Gomez is a 16-year-old high school student who attends Everett Alvarez High School. She says she didn’t know that 16-year-olds in California can pre-register to vote. Pre-registration is when 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to register to vote that will allow them to be able to vote when they turn 18.

“No, I am not registered to vote and I had no idea that I could,” Kassandra says. She also says youth are misinformed about voting and registering.

“I think that a lot of the time we are uninformed and even disregarded (as far as) important things like voting when it comes to the youth,” Kassandra adds.

She feels that young people should start to get involved. “It shouldn’t be that way since it’s our future. And it’s in the hands of older people who are making those decisions for us, decisions that a lot of the time won’t help us and only them.”

Kassandra describes how youth also seem uninterested in participating in life-impacting decisions.

“Some youth don’t really care for (participating), or think that it impacts them, when in reality it does,” she says. But the low number of youth who don’t want to take part in society’s decisions doesn’t detract from the large number who do, she adds.

The perspectives of young people such as Kassandra showcase the need for youth involvement in voting, and for creating ways to educate young people about it.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo says many eligible people don’t vote in California. “California has such a high percentage of people who can vote but haven’t registered,” he says. Alejo describes how simply not registering can exclude one from being sent information from candidates, leaving eligible voters out of the conversation.

Alejo has openly advocated for increasing youth voting by proposing a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for their counties’ elected officials or in school board elections.

There seems to be a resurgence of young people who have taken voting and registering to vote into their own hands. Karina Ezparaza, a 17-year-old senior from Everett Alvarez High School, has decided to inform herself about voter registration.

“I first learned about pre-registering to vote through a club on campus called ‘IVOTE’,” which helps youth pre-register and register to vote,” Karina says. It motivated her to learn more about voter registration, she says, “as there is not a lot of emphasis in our community.”

She says young people should care about registering and voting. “I definitely think more young people should register to vote and to become educated voters. Young people are actually… more knowledgeable about current events and history because their school work revolves around these topics, or they are active on social media.”

Karina says youth shouldn’t be discouraged from voting. “Coincidentally, this Generation Z has been told repeatedly that their vote doesn’t matter because of the Electoral College or other factors. They need to unlearn these stigmas and know that their vote carries power.”

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About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.