Vikiana Petit-Homme really wishes she could vote. The high school senior is just 17 years old, so she’s not eligible to cast a ballot in the midterm elections — but she’s been working to make sure other young adults who can vote, do.
Youth voter turnout has historically been low, especially for midterm elections. In 2014, only 23 percent of Americans 18 to 34 voted, according to the United States Census. In contrast, 59 percent of Americans 65 and older voted.
Lately, though, young adults have been raising their political voices. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, students swarmed the streets for March For Our Lives actions across the country, demanding that elected officials take action to fight the gun violence harming their peers.
Now, those same young adults are urging young people to continue to be politically active with a nationwide “Vote for Our Lives” campaign.
“March For Our Lives is all about youth voice, especially on issues that affect us like gun violence,” said Petit-Homme, executive director of March For Our Lives Boston. “One way that our voice can be amplified by, like, a million is by voting. When you vote, that’s when your politicians start listening to you.”
Ahead of the Massachusetts voter registration deadline, which this year was Oct. 17, March For Our Lives Boston held voter registration drives Monday through Friday at different college campuses, including Northeastern, Brandeis, Boston University, Boston College, UMass Boston and Simmons. The week before the deadline, the organization held at least two drives every day.
“I think a lot of people see registering to vote as this big hassle, so one thing I always do to get people in a rush is say, ‘This only takes two minutes,’ and it really does only take two minutes,” Petit-Homme said. “Having the extra step of mailing it out is one way that we lose voters. Also, where the heck do you get a stamp? It’s so hard to get stamps, so we make sure we [mail] it for them.”
Vikiana Petit-Homme, executive director of MFOL Boston, pictured at the 50 Miles More march. Photo: Provided
After that deadline and ahead of Election Day, Petit-Homme and March For Our Lives Boston have been focusing on educating voters about the midterm election candidates and helping people apply for absentee ballots — an especially important process for college students who often don’t live at home.
Based on the energy she’s seeing, Petit-Homme does think youth voter turnout will be higher this year, and that could lead to those individuals being more politically involved in general.
“If your first time voting is a midterm, usually there’s no activity. Usually people forget midterms exist, so then you have people not voting their first [eligible] time” said Petit-Homme. “Then they go to college where it becomes extremely hard to vote, and then they never build up a habit.”
“Having young people vote for their first time in the midterms is crazy. Then they’re more likely to vote the next time around,” she added. “We’re building that habit of voting within young people and that’s what we need.”
Though she won’t be 18 until the summer, Petit-Homme will still make it to a voting site on Election Day as a poll worker. She hopes that inspires even more of her peers to actually make it to the polls on Tuesday.
“If I’m 17, not able to vote but I’m still spending my day on Election Day helping people vote, why can’t you take [an], on average, 13 minute [wait in line] and vote? That really gets people thinking,” she said. “My work with March For Our Lives, hosting drives — if I can do all this, why can’t you take time out of your day to vote?”
By the numbers: Youth voter turnout and midterm elections
40 percent of 18-29 year olds say they’re likely to vote on November 6, according to Fall 2018 national youth poll out of Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics
21 percent: Highest youth voter turnout ever in midterm elections. Since 1986, this level of voter turnout was reached only twice: 1986 and 1994
17.1 percent of 18 to 24 year olds voted in the 2014 midterm elections. When including those up to 29, that increases to 19.9 percent
46.1 percent: 2016 presidential election voter turnout among those under 30 — the lowest turnout rate of any age group
1971: The year Congress ratified the 26th Amendment, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote