Post by Diane Vo, a librarian in the Main Library's TeenZone
Last month, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that over 100,000 16- and 17-year-olds have pre-registered to vote in California. The number of pre-registrations per week has noticeably increased since February’s Parkland, FL, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and March’s national school walkouts and protests.
Padilla announced this milestone while also launching a new youth portal of the California Secretary of State website that connects students to civic engagement opportunities. The secretary of state subsequently held rallies and events during California High School Voter Education Weeks (April 16-27), where he spoke to students about the importance of voter registration and pre-registration. One of these events was held at the César E. Chávez Branch on April 19.
There, Padilla spoke to a group of ARISE High School students about the significance of voting, particularly among youth. Students had the opportunity to ask questions after Padilla’s talk.
One student voiced a concern on voter apathy among young people, stating that youth generally shy away from politics because it seems “unappealing,” noting that it is partly caused by a lack of voter education in schools.
OPL staff were curious in what our own young library patrons think of voting and civic engagement, and in asking our teens for their thoughts, found that this viewpoint is common among many teens in our community.
“Teachers don’t really talk about [voting] too much,” Moises, 17, notes.
“Voting can be very confusing and adults should talk about things that can affect us and how we should think about voting if we want to change [things],” says Karen, 18.
“The rhetoric that has been thrown around and the negative connotation that the word ‘politics’ has developed, has turned many youth away from politics and voting,” Tina Y., 17, says. “I think many youth will feel inspired to vote if we establish a connection between politics and teens.”
When asked about how the recent resurgence of youth activism has affected them, our teens generally felt encouraged by seeing other young adults at the forefront of political conversations.
“It has inspired me to get more involved in politics,” Jodie, 17, says.
“[It] has allowed me to understand the power and credibility of my own voice. I think, as teenagers and young people, we tend to suppress our voice because we are considered by society to be ‘just kids,’ remarks Jorja S., 15. “I believe now that young people will not just be the leaders of tomorrow but the activists of today.”
The recent uptick in voter pre-registration and our conversations with OPL’s teen patrons have shown us that youth are becoming more interested in civic engagement. Pre-registering to vote is a significant step for California youth in getting involved with the political process and voicing their opinions on issues that directly affect them.
Voter pre-registration began in 2016 as part of an ongoing state effort to promote civic activity among youth. It was initially only offered through paper applications but since March 2017, qualified teens have been able to pre-register online at RegistertoVote.ca.gov.
Oakland Public Libraries have long been a site where community members can pick up voter registration applications, and now OPL can also help 16- and 17-year-olds pre-register to vote. For those newly minted 18-year-olds that are eager to show up at the ballots, the upcoming direct primary election on June 5 is a perfect opportunity for young adults to vote for candidates that share their values and for measures that they care about.
Visit ACVote.org for more information about candidates, representatives, and ballot measures. For more information about pre-registration, visit RegistertoVote.ca.gov, or your local Oakland Public Library branch