The percentage of young people who voted in last year’s midterm elections was 19.9 percent, the lowest ever recorded, and significantly below the 24 percent who voted in 2010.
At a news conference held at King High School in North Tampa on Tuesday, Michael Malanga, USF Student Body Vice President, was asked why he believed that so few of his contemporaries go to the polls.
“Sometimes there’s a lack of interest, a lack of engagement, and I think that’s something we’re really trying to tackle at USF,” responded Malanga, who appeared with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer at an event highlighting National Voter Registration Day.
“We’re trying to say,” Malanga said, ‘these are the issues that affect you, whether it’s student debt, whether it’s funding for USF at the state level, there are so many issues that affect students every single day, and we’re really trying to articulate the message that you have your voice heard, because so many of these issues directly change the way you go through school.'”
One thing that Malanga didn’t mention was that there is significant belief among young people that voting is actually an ineffective means of changing society.
That’s what Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, a Tufts-based center that studies civic engagement among young Americans, told the Boston Globe last month.
Malanga says one issue that definitely affects his fellow USF students is Bright Futures, Florida’s lottery-funded college scholarship, which has morphed from its original incarnation in recent years. The program has raised required test scores and is now less focused on expanding access to higher education.
“Every year it’s on the table to either be amended in some way,” he said. “And that’s something that’s going to directly affect your college career, because it will either make it a lot easier to go for you to go to school, or a lot more difficult because of things like student loans and student debt.”
A few years ago, Inverness House Republican Jimmie Smith introduced a bill that would require Bright Futures scholarship recipients to pay back the cost of their education if they were to take jobs outside the state or fail to earn a degree. The pushback was so severe, however, he pulled the bill shortly after initial reviews were so poor.
“We talk to them about local races and the School Board, for example,” said Latimer about what he says when he or members of the SOE’s office visit high schools, which he says is something his office does all year long to register students about to turn 18. “They’re the ones that set your dress code policy, set your different policies for the school. You should have input into that,” he says about the importance of voting for School Board races
Latimer says he’s “amazed” that in a presidential year, there will be approximately 50,000 more voters who will participate in the election, ignoring the down ballot contests. “We try to educate and bring these issues forward.”
The reduction in voters from an “off-year” election year like 2014 vs. a presidential election year like 2016 is stark in Florida (and the nation for that matter). Last year only 18 percent of registered voters participated in the August primary, vs. 51 percent who voted in the November general election.
Officials chose to hold their news conference at King High off 56th Street because the school had the highest percentage of high school students who were registered to vote in Hillsborough County.
Unregistered voters of any age can register now in advance of the presidential primary election in Florida next March. They can do so by going to the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections website or by getting a registration form at any public library in the county, or visiting one of the four SOE offices in Hillsborough.