After all the hard work to register young people to vote, will they?

Leon County
Marjon Neal, 25, field organizer for For Our Future Florida, speaks to a small crowd outside the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on the first day of early voting in Leon County. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

Election Day is right around the corner and groups that have been hard at work for months motivating young people to register to vote are now thinking about what lies ahead:

Will all those efforts pay off?  Will registering to vote lead to voting?

Will young people really leave their dorms or their houses or their apartments and go over to their polling places to cast their votes on Nov. 6?

One good sign: Preliminary reports after the Aug. 28 primary show that in “youth-heavy” precincts in Tallahassee, there were five times as many votes in this year’s primary than in 2014.

Three-quarters of that vote went to candidate and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who surged ahead to secure the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Still, the estimated 3.4 million young voters in Florida are notorious for not turning out in elections. And midterm elections – what supervisors of elections offices call “off-year” cycles – are even less attractive for students who are on the cusp of political awareness.

But this year is different, according to Kathryn Casello, a 21-year-old Florida State University student.

Casello is majoring in political science and social work and is president of The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus at FSU. She stood outside the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center earlier this week with the political advocacy group For Our Future to encourage people to vote. The civic center is an early voting location in Leon County, located on the outskirts of FSU.

“This year has been an incredible year for activism for young people in the state of Florida,” Casello said. “We saw that there were students who had never been involved in activism before who were coming out and marching in the streets, shouting to make sure that their voices were being heard. We have to make sure that that energy and that activism continues on into the polls.”

For Our Future field organizer David Akintonde, 23, said that his organization has knocked on a million doors throughout Florida during this election cycle. He believes in a surge of young voter support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

“Just the simple fact that he was the underdog in the primary; he came back and won. He’s literally defied all odds and I believe people like that: They like the underdog story. They’re going to come out for Andrew Gillum,” Akintonde said.

Akintonde estimated that his organization is going to knock on another half a million doors ahead of Election Day across the state, to educate people about when and where to vote, and how to get to the polls. Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to the polls, Akintonde said.

On Election Day, For Our Future organizers will be knocking on doors at 6 a.m.

“The biggest engagement you could have is face-to-face,” Akintonde said.

Casello’s own student organization has been getting students talking about voting ahead of Election Day. She said she’s noticed that getting people and their friends involved is a more effective way to motivate people.

“I think the first step is just getting engaged in your immediate circle of friends – asking your friends, ‘Are you planning on voting, what are some of the issues that are important to you?’,” Casello said.

“The next step after that is reaching out into some of your other circles – talking to people in your classes, talking to people in clubs you care about and just encouraging people and reminding them that you don’t have to be a political scholar to have your voice matter in political dialogue.”

On the conservative side, College Republicans have focused on educating its 150 members and their friends on economic ballot issues, said Corey Adamyk, 19, an FSU student and secretary of the College Republicans. He’s a political science and history major.

“Most of our issues are economic,” Adamyk said. “A lot of people are seeing rising wages and new jobs. The economy can help people from all walks of life.”

The College Republicans also encourage members to reach out to friends and plan for how to vote.

On Election Day, the organization will be reminding people to go out and vote. Members will also continue to knock on doors around FSU to get out the vote ahead of Nov. 6.

“Any voters you can get out definitely make a difference,” Adamyk said.

The idea that young people are all liberal and Democrat is not true, Robert Foster said. Foster, 34, is the chairman of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans (FFYR) and lives in Jacksonville.

His organization partnered with the statewide Florida College Republicans to engage young people on college campuses and host voter registration drives. On eight college campuses, they registered over 700 young people to vote and recently hosted an event in Orlando to get out the vote. Members knocked on doors to advocate for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and for Republican Gov. Rick Scott (running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for the Senate seat).

“(We) really want to get out there to demonstrate to people that there are young Republican voters and we do like to have a good time and we’re not all stick-in-the-muds,” Foster said. “Through a combination of excitement on our side and it being an election year – (we’re) constantly adding people to the membership rolls of the individual chapters.”

Each chapter has its own plan for what events are happening on Election Day. Some chapters will be recruiting volunteers to drive people to the polls, Foster said.

“I think just through technology, voting has become more immediate for us (young voters). It’s not some far-off thing anymore. Especially when it comes to young Republicans, they’re involved,” Foster said. “They’re engaged and rearing to go. It’s one of those election years where everything’s contested.”

“For politicos, it’s a fun year,” he said.

Progressive organization NextGen Florida, the young voter registration giant, is also continuing its efforts throughout the early voting period to motivate young people to vote. Organizers are phone banking, “text banking” and knocking on doors, among other strategies. NextGen is also partnering with the national carpooling service Lyft to provide free rides to the polls.

NextGen field organizer Mariah Rivera, 22, said she has seen firsthand how NextGen’s presence on Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus has made students more aware that it’s an election year.

She said she talks to students about what their schedules are like to try and help them figure out when they’ll have time to vote.

NextGen, funded by American billionaire Tom Steyer, opened a Florida chapter last September. The organization says it has registered over 50,000 young people to vote ahead of the October deadline. Over the weekend, organizers knocked on over 21,000 doors throughout the state to talk about early voting and progressive issues on the ballot. Organizers also sent over 50,000 text messages to potential voters.

Now, it’s time to see how many young people will vote Nov. 6.

CD Davidson-Hiers
CD Davidson-Hiers is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Creative Writing and French. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honors societies, and has received multiple writing awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Prior to joining the Florida Phoenix, CD worked at the Tallahassee Democrat and has bylines in Tallahassee Magazine. She is a native of Pensacola and currently lives in Tallahassee with her tabby cat, Faulkner.


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