Last week Democracy NC released a report showing that nearly half of 18-to-25 year olds did not vote in our most recent election. In fact, the numbers are even worse than they appear. That statistic represents the percent of registered voters who went to the polls.
What about all the young people that aren’t even registered? In the 2008 presidential election, which was seen as a high-water mark for youth participation, 41 percent of eligible 18-to-25 year olds were not even registered. If you look beyond years with presidential elections, the numbers drop precipitously. For our local elections, participation by young people is almost nonexistent.
Young voters bring important perspectives to our election and “Team Democracy” doesn’t do as well when 60 percent of the young players aren’t even in the game. This is not a new phenomenon and many groups have worked to mobilize young people –from MTV’s Rock the Vote, to church-based registration drives, to YouTube celebrity public service announcements. These efforts have been important, but the voting trends send a clear message: get out the vote campaigns and registration drives are necessary, but they not sufficient.
A new initiative in North Carolina is trying to do just that. First Vote NC, a nonprofit organization, is working with public schools (traditional and charter) to understand introduce students to the nuts and bolts of voting and why that vote matters in our democratic system of government. Because of the effort of hard working and committed educators across the state, more than 32,000 students from 76 high schools in 46 counties all over North Carolina were able to practice what it is like to participate in the democratic process. Research tells us that individuals who vote in their first election are significantly more likely to become life-long voters.
Disengaged young people isn’t a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, but it is a solvable problem.
Hunter Buxton is is executive director of First Vote NC.