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Hawaii’s reputation for low voter turnout is well known, and if the islands follow the trend elsewhere in the country it’s even lower among young people.
Nationally, only 28 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 say they are “absolutely certain” they will vote in the midterm election this year, compared to 74 percent of seniors, according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic.
But there are efforts underway by the state Office of Elections and other organizations to try to pump up Hawaii’s youth vote.
Every year, election offices statewide conduct the Young Voter Registration Program to get high school students as young as 16 pre-registered to vote.
“A small number of schools participate,” Nedielyn Bueno, the head of the Office of Elections’ voter services section, said in an email. “Those that do participate, the teachers say it’s a good way to incorporate elections into their civics curriculum.”
Election and school officials work together on the program, which is usually combined with related civics education courses.
Schools sometimes have pre-registration drives at a table in a high-traffic area on campus. Students are given registration applications and instructed how to properly fill out the forms.
Other strategies can include a classroom visit by election officials, if teachers are interested.
Bueno said the Office of Elections works with the Hawaii Department of Education to conduct the program.
The Young Progressives Demanding Action is an organization based at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Part of its mission is to get young people involved in progressive politics at the local and national levels.
This month, the group held its first-ever “People to the Polls” event at the Capitol with live entertainment and free food to encourage people to vote.
Group members also encouraged participants to take advantage of the state’s early voting and same-day registration programs held at Honolulu Hale.
Currently, Hawaii is one of 13 states that allow eligible youths to pre-register at 16.
In order to pre-register to vote in Hawaii, youths must:
• Be a U.S. citizen.
• Be a Hawaii resident.
• Be at least 16 years of age.
• Have a current Hawaii driver’s license or state ID to complete an online application.
Eligible people can also pre-register by obtaining an application at county elections offices, public libraries or driver’s license offices.
Upon turning 18, they will receive a Notice of Voter Registration postcard informing them of their voter registration status and polling place information.
Member Will Caron said that the way to get young voters to the polls is to speak about issues they care about, such as universal health care and tuition-free college.
“To try to overcome apathy we have to make it clear to people in terms that they understand that the only way that they’re going to have a government that represents their values is if they participate,” Caron said.
The organization hopes to hold another People to the Polls event before the general election on Nov. 6.
Another youth voter initiative is Common Cause Hawaii’s Youth Voter Registration Project.
The program is held at the Kapiolani Community College and UH Manoa campuses and trains college students, also known as “civic ambassadors,” on how to register people to vote.
In less than two months, the civic ambassadors registered more than 200 new voters, Executive Director Corie Tanida said.
“I think that peer-to-peer relationship helps them to connect the dots on how government and politics does affect their lives on a daily basis and why it’s important for them to speak up,” Tanida said.
In 2008, only 31 percent of young people between the ages 18 to 29 in Hawaii voted — the worst young voter turnout in the nation.
In the 2012 general election, the state’s youth turnout dropped down to 30 percent, well below the national average of 45 percent.
State election officials said they do not have more recent data on youth turnout.
Colin Moore, University of Hawaii political science professor, said that young people may not vote because they feel they have less at stake in society.
Older people are more likely to own a home, have a family and make more money, which gives them a direct interest in issues like taxes and education, he said.
Moore also said that youth are more likely to vote as adults if they are involved in the election process at an earlier age.
Read our new column on young people getting involved in politics, “Student Voices.”
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