Guest Editorial: Young voters show political power
Here's some heartening news on the political front.
Young people are taking an increased interest in politics — at least in Minnesota.
The state's youth voter turnout was tops in the United States in 2018, according to a new study.
Minnesota has long had a solid track record when it comes to voting, consistently ranking number-one in the nation. For the 2018 election, 64.25 percent of the state's eligible voters cast a ballot.
A recent study from The Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University dug deeper into voter participation rates across the country and found that young voters in Minnesota also voted in 2018 at the highest rates in the country, coming in at 43.7 percent participation.
That number may seem low — only 4 in 10 took the time to vote — and there is certainly room for improvement. But it does show that there are plenty of young people out there who are at least taking an interest and are shattering the myth that they're too preoccupied with their phones and video games to do their civic duty.
In announcing the news, Secretary of State Steve Simon noted that Minnesota's tradition of robust voting will only continue if today's voters pass it on to the next generation.
"Good habits start early — the young voters of today are the seasoned voters of tomorrow," Simon said. "No metric is more important to the future of our state than the participation of young people in our political process. I am so proud of all Minnesotans for exercising their right to vote, but I am especially enthusiastic to see young Minnesotans embracing their political power."
According to the CIRCLE study, an estimated 31 percent of eligible 18-to-29-year-olds voted in the 2018 midterm election. That represented a 10 percent increase over nationwide turnout in the 2014 midterm election.
In Minnesota, the increase in youth turnout in 2018 was more than 20 percent higher than the same age group in the 2014 election. Minnesota's increase in youth turnout was second only to Montana. (See more from the CIRCLE study at www.civicyouth.org.)
A statewide, nonpartisan program may be helping Minnesota's numbers. Every two years, the "Students Vote" program supports mock elections at hundreds of high schools with organizing outlines, materials, realistic sample ballots, and articles provided by the Secretary of State's Office. The program, Simon said, exposes students to the process and realistic experience of elections.
The Minnesota College Ballot Bowl also provides resources that support voter outreach and education at public, private, two-year and four-year colleges and university campuses across the state.
The secretary's office also works with nonprofit organizations to train volunteers in voter registration at the state's high schools. It also provides ongoing resources to the teachers in areas like voting and civic engagement. The programs teach young Minnesotans a sense of the responsibility and power they have as voters, noted Simon.
Also, the office works with other nonpartisan organizations to galvanize youth participation in elections and leadership in civic life.
All of these efforts, combined, appear to be making a difference.
"A youth wave swept across Minnesota," said Mike Dean, executive director of LeadMN — College Students Connecting for Change. "The 2018 election is proof that young people want to have their voices heard."
In this political age of polarization and bitter partisan bickering, an influx of new involvement and new voices is definitely a step in the right direction.
Let the wave roll in.