Tyler Brooks was met with applause when he exited the polling station for the first time at 18. He remembers how the excitement and love he felt at that moment made him confident that he would become a lifelong voter.
“You see how important it is to a lot of people, and you just want to keep coming back for every election,” the Gainesville resident said.
What Brooks didn’t know when he cast his first votes was that his decision to become an active voter – like that of many youth aged 18 to 29 – is expected to heavily influence Florida’s 2022 governor and senate races. Tufts University’s 2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index found that Florida is ranked in the top 10 states to have the greatest youth impact on upcoming senate and gubernatorial elections.
“A lot of people want change,” Brooks said. “But if you want to sit home and not vote, you’re not going to get the change you want.”
It has never been more important for young people to be registered to vote than it is today, said Dorothy Zimmerman, director of communications at the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
“The stakes are getting to be very high,” she said.
Voting in Florida is especially important because it is a swing state, said Kelly Siegel-Stechler, a senior researcher at Tufts University’s civic engagement project. The state boasts a diverse population, which can shape how politics happen.
“This increases the need for large voter turnout and investment in quality civic education,” Siegel-Stechler said.
Florida was the first state to require a civics course in its education requirements and is one of the only states that require a standardized assessment in civics, she said. The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office has built on this education by hosting youth voter presentations at local high schools.
Alachua County’s Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton said the presentations are intended to empower young people to have a say at all levels, from electing city commissioners to the governor and the president.
“[The youth] are the ones making decisions for our future, so it’s very important that they exercise their right to vote,” Barton said.
The presentations also offer students the opportunity to preregister to vote, said Aaron Klein, director of communications and outreach for the county’s Supervisor of Elections Office. Florida is one of 16 states that allows preregistration starting at 16.
“Every time we help a student preregister, it increases the likelihood that when it’s time to early vote, vote by mail or vote on elections day, that they’re going to vote,” Klein said.
For young voters, the weight of their family’s political views has been shown to have varying effects on their decision when choosing which party to register with.
In Dante Sandroni’s family, it’s a tradition to register as a Democrat. The Orlando resident, 21, comes from a family that is heavily involved in business, which has a great influence on his political stance.
Jacksonville resident Claudia Tamares, 20, preregistered at 16 when she got her driver’s license. The University of Central Florida student registered as a Republican because her parents were, too. Attending college outside of her conservative hometown, Tamares has been introduced to more diverse viewpoints that have influenced her current political views.
Understanding the impact college campuses have on young people today, Zimmerman said the Graham Center regularly plans and implements voter and civic engagement programs. This includes Gator Get out the Vote Coalition and Ask Every Student, which aim to increase the number of students who register to vote.
One of the largest contributing factors to increasing voter turnout among university students has been providing a polling place on campus, which was instituted in 2018, Zimmerman said.
“Voting is habit-forming across your life,” Siegel-Stechler said. “Once you start voting, you’re more likely to keep voting as you get older.”
Brooks, who participated in the most recent county elections, said he was motivated to vote by his parents and the location of the polling place, which is within walking distance from his house.
“My mom and father told me that if you want people to serve you, you have to go out there and hold them accountable,” he said.
The issues that youth care about, such as climate change and student debt relief, have also influenced young voters to turn out for upcoming elections, Siegel-Stechler said.
Evan Golinsky, 19, a Miami resident, goes to the ballot box hoping to shape policy related to Israel, climate change and abortion rights.
“It was a liberating experience knowing I could now, not only consume media and news about politics but actually engage with it on a personal level,” he said.
Experts like Siegel-Stechler hope for greater civic literacy education because the youth can be the deciding factor in an election.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re just one person,” Siegel-Stechler said. “But, especially when you live in a state like Florida, where the numbers can be so close in calling an election, it can really matter; you turning up to vote, on what your day-to-day life looks like.”