By Astrid Garcia Ochoa, Twitter: @astridmgarcia
Young people have among the lowest levels of participation in elections. This is troublesome because they are a sizable part of California’s population and are the future leaders of this state.
In November 2014, youth turnout reached a record low.
Lower voter turnout is usually expected for midterm elections, but 2014 marked a record low. According to a study by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change California Civic Engagement Project, of the 3.5 million youth, ages 18-24, who are eligible to cast ballots only 8% turned out. That is approximately 1 out of every 13 eligible youth. The contrast is true for people age 55+, who are overrepresented in registration and turnout, when compared to the eligible population. Research by UC Berkeley Center for Latino Policy Research, shows voter registration and turnout is even lower for Latino youth.
Common assumptions of why youth don’t participate are because young people are lazy and they don’t care. Unfortunately, low youth voter turnout doesn’t help improve this image. When you talk to youth, however, they care.
Youth care about issues important to them.
Young people are passionate about issues that are important to them and they care about their communities. My little sister, age 23, is organizing an event to help keep the San Gabriel Mountains clean. She has me excited about painting garbage cans to make them visible and keep parklands beautiful for future generations. She is just one of many young people who volunteer in their communities. However, there are barriers that prevent youth from participating in the elections process.
Several barriers prevent youth from voting.
I attended a panel at the conference my organization, Future of California Elections, hosted entitled “Expanding Participation for Young Voters”. The panelists included student representatives from Community Colleges, Cal States, UCs, as well as leaders working on youth voter engagement, including CALPIRG and Rock the Vote. The panel identified many barriers to youth participation, such as unfamiliarity with the voter registration process, lack of flexibility in work/school schedules to cast a ballot on Election Day, deficient knowledge of the candidates and ballot measures and not connecting to the candidates. The panel never mentioned lack of interest or that youth did not care about voting.
The reality is that young people care and we must do a better job of inviting them to be part of the democratic process.
You can help youth vote.
Election administrators and organizations are doing their part to engage youth. You can also help youth voter engagement. NALEO Educational Fund’s research shows that the best messenger to get young Latinos to vote is a teacher. This can be anyone a young person sees as a mentor. Who are the young people in your life that seek you out as their teacher and mentor?
Here are three simple steps you can take to help the young people in your life to vote:
- Register a young person to vote. Use your mobile phone, tablet or home computer to help them fill out the voter registration form online http://registertovote.ca.gov
- Talk about the issues. You are a trusted mentor to a young person. Talk to them about issues that are important to you and why. And remember it’s ok if they disagree with you.
- Invite them to participate. Make a date to review your voter guide together, go to the polls together on Election Day, or both!
Let’s get our future leaders registered and voting to ensure California’s electorate reflects its demographics and is vibrant in the near future.
About the Author
Astrid Garcia Ochoa, HLI Class of 2006, is a Deputy Director at Future of California Elections. She is a passionate advocate for civic engagement. Astrid earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pomona College and a Master in Public Affairs and Master in Urban and Regional Planning from Princeton University. The views expressed here are her own.