Boston thinkers target young voters for Election 2016

Metro File

With the March 1 state primary around the corner and the deadline for voter registration fast approaching (the cutoff is Wednesday, Feb. 10), get-out-the-vote efforts in Boston are gaining momentum.

On Wednesday, a group of experts on the subject plan to gather at the Cambridge Innovation Center’s location on Milk Street in Boston to talk strategy and share research.

Three educators from Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service are expected to be there, and their audience is the Massachusetts Alliance for Business Leadership, a policy-minded coalition from the private sector.

Their target: young voters.

“Lack of political participation by young people is a disease,” said Alan Solomont, Tisch College’s dean, in an interview. “We are searching for a cure.”

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Solomont was scheduled to speak at the hour-long meeting on Wednesday, which comes exactly one year out from the inauguration in 2017 of the president voters pick in November. It starts at noon.

In Massachusetts, voter turnout in national elections among those over 30 is around 75 percent, Solomont said. It’s 20 points lower among 18-29-year-olds, he said.

Adding to the pressure to boost turnout, this latest presidential election year comes after 2014, which he said had the lowest percentage of young voters since researchers have tracked the numbers.

“And yet they could have had a huge impact on the political landscape and the outcome of the election,” he said.

It’s become a familiar talking point that Mitt Romney could have beaten Barack Obama in 2012 had the candidate not lost the youth vote so handily to the president.

When it comes to boosting the number of registered voters and to encouraging people to actually make it to the polls, college campuses are among the best places to start, Solomont said. But not necessarily by just dispatching volunteers with clipboards, he said.

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Tisch research has found students at campuses that emphasize public policy debate turn out in higher numbers than at schools that don’t encourage political debate, he said.

Young people are also more likely to vote when campaigns contact them directly to talk about issues, he said.

“Actually talking to young people is more important than what issues you talk to them about,” Solomont said. “Often, you’ll hear something like, ‘Well, my vote doesn’t count.’ And you have an opportunity to say, ‘Well, yes it does.’”

The first step, though, he said, is to get youth to register in time for the election and to turn them into full-time voters.

“When you get young people to vote early, it’s habit-forming,” he said. “They’re much more likely to vote for the rest of their lives.”

Secretary of State William Galvin’s office has also been on a get-out-the-vote kick, airing a commercial about how easy it is to register online. For those with a state-issued ID, it only takes five minutes – as long as it takes to “check the scores” or “post a pic,” according to a commercial from Galvin’s office that has been running for the past few weeks.

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Galvin’s spokesman Brian McNiff said the ads weren’t specifically targeting young, smartphone-inclined would-be voters.

“The target is everybody who hasn’t registered,” he said, adding that his office hopes to tap a variety of groups – among them college and high school organizations and youth programs – to spread the word in this particularly important year.

“The time to get involved is now,” McNiff said. “This year, especially, we’re electing a president and that will have a powerful effect on the country, whoever it is.”

Haven’t registered? Grab your driver’s license and register online. To find your polling place check the state’s handy search tool at WhereDoIVoteMA.com.

The deadline to register for the Nov. 8 general election in Massachusetts is Wednesday, Oct. 19.

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