It’s no secret, youth voting numbers in America have always been low.
No matter how many get-out-the-vote campaigns advertising agencies dream up, how many “Vote or Die” t-shirts P.Diddy sells, or “Rock the Vote!” commercials Madonna fronts, nothing has changed the fact that 18-to-24-year-olds just don’t seem to give a damn about making it to the polls.
Despite historically low turnout, registration numbers released in April show that more than 100,000 California teenagers are now pre-registered to vote, an uptick Secretary of State Alex Padilla attributes to the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school and the ongoing nationwide protests over gun violence.
Pre-registration in California, which allows 16 and 17 year old’s to register to vote before they’re eligible to cast their ballot, is one of only 14 such programs in the country. Some of these students signing up won’t even be old enough to vote in the upcoming primary, yet people Kaleo Mark and Emma Talley are working tirelessly to make sure their peers are registered.
"I think it’s important for us to get a running start," said Kaleo Mark, a 17-year-old student at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento. "Not, ‘Oh, I’m 18, now I should get involved.’ I think it should be, ‘I’m a teenager, I’m 13-14-15, I should start getting familiar with the issues so that, when I do turn 18, I can make educated decisions."
Talley, 17, agrees, and says social media has helped to bring up the numbers of young, potential voters.
"A huge chunk of social media has become really politically involved, so I think you have a lot more younger kids getting involved in politics a lot earlier than they have in the past," Talley said.
For Eboni Eckford, a senior at Sacramento High School, the June primary will be the first election she’s eligible to vote in.
"We watch social media," Eckford said. "Anything that causes controversy, it pops up on social media. And then, a lot of things that cause controversy are the things that happen in politics, or that have to do with politicians. So, if it's on our phones and it's on one of our apps, we're going to see it."
Eckford said even if she wasn't interested in politics, "politics is interested in you," and that if she didn't vote, "than other people are making the decisions for me."
"I would like to say that I think kids are getting involved," said Mark. "I think it has a lot to do with school shootings."
Talley, who also attends Christian Brothers, said it's hard for teens to relate to things like health care and taxes, but issues such as gun violence hit close to home.
"Gun control, that directly affects us," she said. "People our age are dying in schools every day, and it's really scary for a lot of people, so I think for a lot of young people, that's been a big push to get out there and vote."
Eckford, 18, will head to the polls on June 5 with police accountability driving her decisions on who to vote for.
"If you had the power to really sign just a piece of paper and be like, 'Yes, I want this to happen.' And it really happens, like, that's a superpower," Eckford said. That's really a superpower if you think about it. Like, that's cool."