Parkland student activists who’ve inspired the nation with their #neveragain movement need help turning their youthful passion into new voters for sensible gun laws.
The legions of young new voters expected to spring from the student-led marches, walkouts and demonstrations have yet to appear.
Despite the public outcry after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, fewer young people have registered to vote this year in Broward and several other large Florida counties than during the same period four years ago, according to this week’s media reports.
It’s surprising — and somewhat disappointing — to learn the movement has yet to deliver a significant number of new young voters, though history tells us young people are hard to engage.
But in truth, it’s unrealistic to expect high school students to turn this tide alone, no matter how passionate, persuasive and connected they are on social media.
Grown-ups must do more to help.
Elections supervisors across the state — across the country, really — should step up voter registration drives in high schools and on college campuses.
Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes already held a round of student sign-ups in March and plans another later this year. But perhaps if her team spent more days on campus, they might catch more busy kids, who can pre-register at 16 or register at 18.
“I think the enthusiasm is there,” Snipes said. “I believe we will have more young people register.”
It’s already happening in Palm Beach County, which has signed up about 500 more young voters (up to 25 years old) this year than at the same point in 2014, the Tampa Bay Times reported this week.
More should be done, too, to promote how easy it is to register to vote online at registertovoteflorida.gov. All you need is a driver’s license or state-issued identification card, plus the last four digits of your Social Security number. Without a driver’s license, which a lot of young people delay getting these days, a paper application must be completed.
We’d also encourage voter-advocacy groups — from the League of Women Voters to Rock the Vote — to ramp up their registration campaigns. The league helped register a number of 16-year-olds at the Parkland March for Our Lives, and the kids were thrilled.
“They took selfies with their form and their families, like it was a big rite of passage,” says league member Bonnie Gross of Fort Lauderdale. “Maybe 16-year-olds are a better target, because they are young enough to be yearning for signs of adulthood that’s still out of reach.”
Churches and synagogues, civic groups, even youth sports leagues could also help by distributing and collecting voter registration material to people.
And while the Parkland students are right not to affiliate with outside groups that could co-opt them, they would be wise to sound the call for help on voter registrations. For early returns suggest their speeches, interviews and social media hashtags are not enough.
The potential for change is too great to let this moment pass. The number of young people who say they plan to vote in November is greater than it was in 2014 and 2010, according to a poll from the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Thirty-seven percent of adults under 30 said they’ll “definitely be voting,” up from 31 percent in 2010 and 23 percent in 2014.
The good news is there is still plenty of time for the #neveragain movement to find more of the voters it needs to succeed. Voter sign-ups tend to increase closer to elections for president and governor, and Florida is picking a new governor and U.S. senator this fall.
July 30 is the deadline to register for the August primary. October 9 is the deadline to register for the November election.
It shouldn’t have taken 17 dead bodies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas to convince American voters that enough is enough. Not after Columbine and Sandy Hook and the Pulse nightclub and Las Vegas and all the other mass shootings that are a self-inflicted wound on our gun-crazed nation.
It took the outrage of students, tired of being targeted by weapons of war, to finally wake up a country numb to gun violence. But to succeed, the gun-control movement needs more committed voters.
Success requires more than new registrations, too. It also requires people getting out to vote, getting other people to vote and supporting candidates who believe military-style assault weapons have no place in civilian hands.
National polls show a majority of Americans support banning assault weapons, outlawing high-capacity ammunition magazines and toughening background checks.
We need those Americans to register. And in November, we need them to become single-issue voters on common-sense gun laws.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.
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