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The Vote: Getting Young Voters To The Polls In Off-Year Elections

WAMC/Allison Dunne

Voter turnout in off-year elections is generally much lower than in presidential election years, and turnout among young voters is no exception. Three politicians who have set records for being the youngest in one political office or another have ideas about where the problems lie. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has part two in our special series The Vote.

That’s 17-year-old Jackson Lisotta. He’s a senior at Haldane High School in Cold Spring, in Putnam County. He says when he turns 18 and can vote, he may choose not to do so in an off-election year, when propositions and municipal races rule the ballot. Haldane Senior Class President Shauna Ricketts, also 17, says she cannot wait to vote, especially when there are statewide ballot propositions. There are six for the 2013 November election.

26-year-old freshman New York State Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Democrat, says there’s a reason young voters are not showing up in off-election years.

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro also sees the need to motivate young voters.

Marcus Molinaro
Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro

Molinaro’s political career began in 1994, when he was elected as a village trustee in Tivoli at age 18, becoming the youngest elected official in state history. One year later, he won the race for mayor; at the time, he was the youngest mayor in the country. He served as a state assemblyman for five years, and was elected county executive in 2011 at age 37. He is currently the youngest county executive in Dutchess County history.

Skoufis, who represents portions of Orange County and a piece of Rockland, was first elected to public office in 2009 as a councilman in Woodbury, at age 21, the town’s youngest in history. Now the youngest sitting assemblymember, Skoufis says even if candidates address issues important to young voters, getting to them is another matter if they are busy with school, jobs, and commuting.

Sen. James Skoufis
Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne
NYS Assemblyman James Skoufis

He says reaching young voters via social media is a given, because no matter how busy young voters may be, they often have time to check Facebook or Twitter.

32-year-old David Carlucci, an Independent Democrat who represents a large part of Rockland County and a bit of Westchester, is the youngest sitting state senator.

He says those statistics are based on U.S. Census 2010 data. Carlucci says you cannot tell someone, “go vote,” but you can make it easier. To this end, he has sponsored a bill to allow 16 and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote so they are automatically enrolled upon turning 18.

The seniors at Cold Spring’s Haldane High School like this idea – Shauna Ricketts, Jackson Lisotta, and Tyler Mell. So does their participation in government and Advanced Placement government teacher, Melissa Seideman, who chimes in at the end.

Carlucci has sponsored another bill he says will make it easier to vote, by allowing the Board of Elections to accept voter registrations electronically.

New York State Senator David Carlucci
Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne
NYS Senator David Carlucci

Such an effort could capture young voters attending college out of state but whose primary residences are still in New York. Both of Carlucci’s bills have sponsors in the assembly. He says he knows of no opposition, but suggests the legislation does not elicit excitement and a sense of urgency, something he hopes to change during the next session.

Assemblyman Skoufis believes that young political candidates can provide an impetus for young people to vote.

Both he and Carlucci say that’s part of the solution, voicing the needs of young voters. Again, Skoufis:

Issues, he says, like college affordability and expanding rental options when it comes to housing. Skoufis says the problem is that some of the issues that resonate with young voters are not campaign issues on the local level, which makes increasing young voter turnout during off-election years even more challenging.

Seideman believes her students should hear about the benefits of voting.

She recently invited a guest speaker to her classroom to discuss voter registration.

Molinaro admits the difficulty in getting young voters to the polls.

High school senior Jackson Lisotta is an example.

Again, here’s Molinaro.

17-year-old Haldane High School senior Tyler Mell says he will register to vote the day he turns 18.

It is participation that Molinaro, Skoufis, and Carlucci hope will increase.

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