Editorial: To change America for better, more young people must vote

It’s good to see the students from Parkland embarking this week on a bus tour to register young people to vote. Activist teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be making 75 stops in 20 states over the summer, starting with a peace march on Chicago’s violence-plagued South Side and ending up in every Florida congressional district.

“We’re going to places where the NRA has bought and paid for politicians who refuse to take simple steps to save our lives — and we’ll be visiting a number of communities that have been affected by gun violence to meet fellow survivors and use our voices to amplify theirs,” organizers say.

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The National Rifle Association was no doubt hoping that the fervor for action against gun violence would die down by now, as it has after so many other mass shootings. But these kids aren’t stopping.

After intensely lobbying the Florida Legislature to produce the state’s first, halting gun restrictions in 20 years; after sparking mass rallies in Washington and scores of other cities; after weathering the nasty Twitter attacks, they are smoothly moving on to the next step: registering young people to vote.

The crucial step is still to come: Getting those new voters out to the polls — the primary in August and the general election in November.

Youth registration locally has been lively since the Feb. 14 slaughter that cost 17 lives at Douglas High. But the effort needs to intensify if it’s going to make a difference.

And it needs to make a difference. Not just on gun control but on issue after issue, the country absolutely needs the participation of young people to set us on a better course. Two-thirds of millennials say government has responsibility to provide health coverage to all; 80 percent say America’s openness to people all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation; two-thirds say more needs to be done to achieve racial equality; three-quarters support same-sex marriage; and 65 percent attribute global warming to human activity, the Pew Research Center reports.

Older Americans are less supportive of all these propositions; in fact, the older the cohort, the less they’re supportive.

The young aren’t out there on some lunatic fringe, mind you. The public at large is closer to these positions than you might think. About two-thirds of Americans want stricter regulation of gun sales, say the government is doing too little to protect the environment and even say smoking marijuana is socially acceptable, according to a Gallup Poll. Forty-five percent of Americans say immigration makes the U.S. economy better.

Yet from the Trump White House to the Republican-led Congress and most of the nation’s state legislatures, the people in power are far more conservative than this.

Take Florida. This should be a swing state par excellence. In statewide voter registration, Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans (37 percent to 35 percent), while 27 percent claim no party affiliation. Yet no Democrat has won a statewide office in 12 years and Republicans are in a 21-year run of holding majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

RELATED: Parkland shooting got young voters motivated here, official says

You can cite a lot of reasons for this, from Republicans’ messaging skills to gerrymandering and voter suppression. But one that shouldn’t be overlooked is the strength of turnout: Older people are more faithful voters.

In the 2016 election won by President Donald Trump, Americans aged 45 to 64 voted at a rate of 67 percent, and those over 65 at a robust 71 percent. But for 18-to-29-year-olds, turnout was an anemic 46 percent.

The conclusion is clear. If you want a government that reflects how most Americans think, then greater numbers of younger people must vote.

It’s welcome news, then, that in the 10 weeks after the Parkland massacre, nearly 4,000 youths under 21 registered to vote in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

But before making predictions about young folks shaking up the November elections, consider that during the same time span in 2014, the last midterm election year, almost 9,000 youth under 21 registered in the two counties.

There’s a ways to go.

In our system, there is a place at the table for the young to exercise power. But, like everyone else, they need to step up to the ballot box to take it. That means registering. And then it means casting a ballot – no excuses! — at election time.

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