In a definite change from past elections, young California voters seem raring to vote in this year’s midterms.
Teens are registering at unprecedented rates. More than 200,000 have registered since 2016, and there is time for that number to grow even larger before the Oct. 22 voter registration deadline.
It’s not just teens. According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a record number of Californians of all ages have registered to vote — more than 19 million according to the most recent voter report. That’s up by 1.5 million from 2014, and the total is an impressive 76 percent of Californians eligible to vote.
While the registration numbers are encouraging, the real test is how many of those potential voters cast a ballot.
Midterm elections generally have abysmal turnout — and turnout by young voters is typically lower than any other group. The 2014 midterms saw the lowest turnout for any statewide November election, a dismal 36 percent. And only 8 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted that year.
Americans had a taste of higher turnout this year in the primaries when a surge in voters, especially Democrats, drove rates higher. Turnout was still only a bit more than one-third of potential voters, but that was a substantial increase for primary elections.
The left and young people seem especially motivated this year. The surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016, his abysmal presidency and congressional Republicans’ refusal to do anything to hold him accountable appear to be energizing voters in California and other blue states. Meanwhile, mass shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida, seem to be motivating teens to get involved. Some recent polling suggests that Republicans are increasingly focused on the midterms, too.
California, which voted 107 years ago today to allow women to vote in state and local elections, has been doing its part recently to encourage more youth to vote. A new program allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’re set to cast ballots when they turn 18.
Some groups are working to make sure California’s young voters show up to the polls. Rise California, a nonprofit working for free tuition at the state’s public universities, has created a peer-to-peer messaging platform, called VoteCrew, designed to help teens convince their friends to vote.
VoteCrew is taking the right approach by focusing on personal contact and motivation from friends, Eric McGhee, a research fellow at California’s Public Policy Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Research has shown that pressure from people you know works to get voters out.
Americans vote at much lower rates than other industrial democracies. When more people participate, elected officials will more accurately reflect the diverse communities of this state and this nation.
Youth — and anyone else — who want their voices to matter must do more than register. They must show up on Election Day.
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Registering to vote
The deadline to register for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 22. Registration forms are available at many public buildings, or you can register to vote online at registertovote.ca.gov.