Youth voting initiatives starting to pay off

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By Ural Garrett

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Before the 2016 presidential election, California had already successfully set plans to ensure record voting turnout with young voters.

Assembly Bill 1817, approved by the state Legislature in 2014, allowed county elections officials to register any student or school administrators on high school campuses.

Written by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-East Los Angeles, it also allowed designated students to become voter outreach coordinators who could plan election-related activities in their schools. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 113 lowered the voter pre-registration age to 16 when approved in 2014 as well.

Raul Preciado, campaign manager for Ve y Vota, Spanish for Go and Vote, a voter engagement campaign, said the initiatives were “impactful” during his time working as the California youth organizing director for NextGen Climate.

“I helped pre-register tons of high school students in my previous position,” Preciado said. “It was an opportunity created for young people as our outreach and presentations served to give them the idea of voting in their mind. We wanted to make sure they were learning about the process.”

According to a UC Davis study, nearly one-third of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the 2016 primary. That was up 23% from 2012. That surge hit California youth as well. However, only 42% of young voters in California actually voted in 2016. Despite the low youth voter turn out, California maintained its long history of voting blue since Bill Clinton was elected in 1992.

Things are looking different for the 2020 election between incumbent President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. According to a recent poll from Politico, millennial voters may not be as enthusiastic about Biden, but they’re willing to do anything to get Trump out.

When it comes to Los Angeles County, the notion makes even more sense. Eighty percent of registered voters between the ages of 18-24 are people of color.

Young voters like 21-year-old and Cal State Northridge psychology major Viridiana Ruiz voted for the first time at a ballot drop box across from Inglewood High School.

“They had the 2018 elections and I didn’t sign up for it because I thought my vote didn’t matter,” Ruiz said. “This time around, I thought this was too important of an election. It’s important to be with the people and make my choices to support.”

One of the deciding factors in this election for young voters could be President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite rising numbers of those infected by the virus, the president said he wouldn’t shut the country down again. That concerns Malcolm Sabal, an environmental and occupational health major who also attends Cal State Northridge.

“Opening up the country while we’re in a pandemic is a bad idea I believe,” said Sabal, who voted for the first time this year by mailing in his ballot.

Outside of big ticket issues, California youth are concerned with down ballot measures as well.

“Besides the presidential [vote], look at Proposition 22,” Preciado said. “A high-level issue like that is important as many young people work for these companies and others may have family and friends that are being exploited.”

Proposition 22, the measure exempting app-based ride share apps like Uber and Lyft from providing employee benefits to certain drivers, impacts youth voters the most.

Measures like Proposition 15 would amend the state Constitution to require some commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value. Revenue appropriated for education would give 11% to community colleges and 89% to public schools, charter schools and county education offices.

Mount Saint Mary’s University freshman Destinee Sloan felt compelled to vote yes on Proposition 15 due to her educational background.

“I look into things like that because I went to public school,” Sloan said. “These kids will be affected by my vote. When you’re putting money into a system that you came out of, it feels really powerful.”

As the second decade of the new century comes to an end, it’s clear that young voters in California are turning into a very serious voting demographic.

“I think if the numbers are continuing the way they are, it’ll be one of the highest total for young voters,” Preciado saidd. “It’ll change the political landscape. You’re talking about a shift of power. More of the issues that young people care about can come to the forefront.”