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New York Registers Students to Vote

ANYA SCHULTZ, HOST: This week New York City public high schools are registering students to vote. And this year, for the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds in the state can pre-register to vote. I spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Matto, who teaches politics at Rutgers University, about the role young people play in our elections.

SCHULTZ: Dr. Matto, thank you for joining us on Uptown Radio.

MATTO: I'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

SCHULTZ: Here in New York, there is a push to pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. Is there any connection between registration and getting someone to actually vote?

MATTO: Yes, absolutely. Just having gotten that paperwork done and gotten themselves eligible and allowing them access to the ballot box certainly enhances the likelihood that you're going to be an active participant on Election Day. To include it and incorporate it in the educational process makes it an even more meaningful experience. Because you're able to infuse students with that sense of responsibility and sense of confidence and sense that they have a role to play in American democracy. To do that while they are still in high school, I think is really beneficial also.

SCHULTZ: Why should more young people go to the polls?

MATTO: Probably the most important reason is that politics affects them. Decisions that are made by officeholders, whether it's at city council level, state legislature, in Congress, in the White House - those decisions made by those office holders will affect the day to day lives of young adults either now or 30 or 40 years from now.

SCHULTZ: What are some of the barriers that stand in the way of getting young people to the polls?

MATTO: I think there are numerous barriers that depress turnout among young adults. A lot of it has to do with just the fact that they are new to the voting process. So if you're new to any sort of democratic process or skill, it takes some practice and it takes some help and support. I think this sort of civic education young adults get in middle school, high school and college plays a significant role in their likelihood of voting on Election Day. So one challenge is that we know that civic education varies across the country. Sometimes it even varies within a state. And often when it is offered, it's offered inequitably. It tends to be students who live in higher income, predominantly white, predominantly college bound areas. So there's some inequities in the civic engagement education system.

SCHULTZ: We just had Super Tuesday this week. Did young people turn out to vote in this primary?

MATTO: Well, I think that the numbers are sort of mixed. You know, in some areas, we had some strong youth voter turnout. In others, maybe not as strong. More often then not campaigns don't typically, purposely reach out to young adults or seek to mobilize young adults or speak to young adults. So I think our turnout numbers for young adults were quite strong in 2018. And I think a lot of that had to do with campaigns and campuses really actively promoting civic engagement and turnout. I think maybe the efforts are probably not as demonstrable during the primaries. I think often that's reflected in turnout numbers. I would say numbers were decent, but not overwhelming.

SCHULTZ: Dr. Matto, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

MATTO: Thanks so much for reaching out to me. And I think it's a really important topic all the time, but certainly a really important topic in an election year.

SCHULTZ: Exit polls from Tuesday’s primary showed people under 30 made up less than a quarter of the voters in each state. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s campaign has specifically tried to target and motivate younger voters. But Sanders said Wednesday that he’s been disappointed in young voters’ turnout so far.


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