By Sara Ruberg, Joe McQueen and Ryan Ferguson
Some 63,000 new registered voters in Nassau and Suffolk County are geared to participate in New York’s primaries on April 28, as New York voter registration jumped by almost half of a million since Nov. 2016, New York Board of Elections data shows.
The increase in registered voters may mean more youth voters, although it is too early to tell if they will come out and vote in the national elections, according to researchers at CIRCLE. On Super Tuesday, the youth turnout was down in Alabama and North Carolina, according to a USA Today data collection. Before Super Tuesday, most states saw an increase in youth voter turnout, according to an NPR analysis.
“We’re looking at when we talk about, like how young people voted, we’re talking about a very small slice of all young people in the United States,” Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), a Tufts University organization that researches youth civic engagement said. “And that’s important to remember because that’s what we really care about is making sure that more young people have the access and ability to participate in these sorts of contests.”
Accessibility and youth voter suppression still inhibit a diverse amount of young people to vote in elections, CIRCLE researchers say. In 2014, CIRCLE calculated that only one-fifth of young people, ages 18-29, participated in that year’s midterm elections — the lowest youth turnout ever recorded by the Census. However the 2018 midterms showed a shift, as young voters jumped from 20% to 36%.
“I feel like it’s important to have a voice, if you want to see a change you gotta at least do something,” Bianca Volino, 17, a student at Suffolk County Community College, said. “So many people are saying they want change, but nothing is going to happen if no one does anything.” Volino will register to vote in one month when she turns 18.
Voters between the ages of 18-29 who have turned out to vote have widely supported Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders won the youth vote decisively in both Iowa and New Hampshire this year and did even better with young Nevada caucus goers, winning nearly two-thirds of their support.
The youth vote in the primaries and caucuses may show slight increases, but many young people are still outnumbered by older generations’ votes, according to CIRCLE. Sanders did win the youth vote in South Carolina, but former Vice President Joe Biden won more than double the amount of delegates than Sanders overall.
“I do think there is a real excitement and engagement among young people that can be accessed, can be ignited, can be mobilized,” Dr. Rachel Cobb, an associate professor and Department Chair of Government at Suffolk University, said. “The question is whether the various campaigns are you to be able to do that to the degree that they need to do it. The groundwork is there, these people are ready to go.”
Cobb and CIRCLE also say lack of civics education from an early age can prevent young people from voting, along with several other access issues like transportation to polling places, required voter identification and possible language barriers. Some young people also do not feel represented in the media or elections, Peter de Guzman, a research program coordinator at CIRCLE says.
The Sunrise Movement is one youth-led organization trying to make change, with some hubs centered around college campuses. The organization encourages people most affected by climate change, such as younger generations, to go out and vote. They have endorsed Bernie Sanders—an already popular candidate for young people.
“Long Island is a front line community in the fight against climate change,” Jared Garfinkel, a hub coordinator for the Long Island Chapter of the Sunrise Movement, said in an email. “Among those most likely to be affected are youth, communities of color, neighborhoods that lack opportunities, and American Indian Nations. We can’t afford to sit out this election regardless of who wins the primary. It is imperative that we defeat Donald Trump to have any chance of climate action at the federal level.”