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Sunday, August 1, 2021

County officials aim to change “abysmal” youth voter turnout in Yolo County

Targeting both high-schoolers and college students, Yolo election officials deploying programs to drive turnout

The Yolo County Elections Office is deploying new strategies to get local youth to vote in the primary elections on Mar. 3, citing concerns about consistently low turnout among young voters in the county. 

The push to engage young voters is “data-driven,” according to Jesse Salinas, the Yolo County assessor, clerk-recorder and registrar of voters. Turnout among voters ages 18-24 have historically been “abysmal” in Yolo County compared to other age demographics, Salinas said.  

Salinas continued that in 2014, during the midterm elections, only 6.7% of eligible youth voters in Yolo County showed up to vote. In comparison, 19.7% of the 25 to 34-year-old demographic voted in the election. The largest group, aged 65 and older, saw 52.3% of eligible voters participating that year. 

There’s been some improvement in recent years, Salinas said — in the 2018 midterms, 21% of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds turned out to vote. However, the youth vote was still greatly overshadowed by other demographics. 

“The next age category up [25 to 34-year-olds]: 41.6%, nearly double,” Salinas said. “So, they’re half of what the nearest age group is.”

Voter engagement tends to rise alongside age, according to Salinas, and once again the youth vote was dwarfed by the seniors in 2018, when 70.1% of eligible voters 65 and up turned out.

“Look at the upper-tier — over 70%,” Salinas said. “And the 18 to 24-year-olds are doing low twenties, which is abysmal. It is — it’s abysmal.”  

Low youth turnout encouraged Salinas and other officials to spend “a lot of time and energy” engaging young voters in the political process. One strategy is setting up voter registration and polling on campus.

 On Mar. 3, the Yolo Elections team plans to set up a satellite polling location in the Memorial Union (MU) building. The regular polling location will be on the second floor of the MU, while the third floor will be used for conditional voter registration, according to Salinas. Even students assigned to other precincts in Davis will be able to vote on campus, he said.  

“We’re going to have the equipment to give them [the] ballot that pertains to them,” Salinas said. “So even if they live somewhere else in Davis, if they come in, we’ll be able to help them register to vote and get their proper ballot as if they went to their [assigned] polling place.” 

Salinas still encourages students to register online at registertovote.ca.gov before Feb. 18, the deadline to receive a vote-by-mail ballot. He also encourages those who have recently moved to check their registration status and polling location on the same website. 

The registrar’s office is also targeting a surprising new group of potential voters — high-schoolers. Even though many of them won’t be able to vote this year, Salinas says the data shows that if young people engage in local politics early, they tend to become life-long voters.  

For the past two years, the Yolo Elections office has partnered with other local activist groups to host the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES). This annual event brings students from high schools around the county to discuss political issues directly with local officials, as well as register and pre-register to vote if they are able.  

“Our mission is to empower and encourage youth to say “YES!” to leadership roles and civic engagement in their local communities,” the program’s website reads. 

Last year, over 100 Yolo highschoolers met with 25 local officials, Salinas said. One of those officials was Yolo Supervisor Don Saylor, who spoke on the importance of youth civic engagement in a video on the program’s website.  

“Everyone should have the right to participate in making decisions that affect their own lives,” Saylor said. ‘That’s why we’re here — because we want you to keep the fire burning.” 

Salinas said he’s quite proud of YES’s results, noting that the program has won a national award. Since YES was put into action, his office has been contacted by other districts, like Sacramento and Monterey, seeking to create their own youth summits. He said that, when polled, the young participants demonstrated significantly higher levels of political knowledge and confidence in their civic voice. 

“The data points were off the charts,” Salinas said. “Did they understand about local government before? 40-50% [said yes]. When they were done, they were in the mid-90s in terms of understanding. Did [they] understand that their vote matters? At the end of the day, we had 100% saying they believe their vote matters.”

The last day to register to vote is Feb. 18,  although conditional registration is possible until the Mar. 3 election day. Eligible voters can register and check their status and poll locations at registertovote.ca.gov. 

Written by: Tim Lalonde — city@theaggie.org

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