Editorial / Making voters of Fairfield's teens
Published 8:07 pm, Thursday, March 15, 2012
The 2012 presidential election is still eight months away, but studies already say young voters will not go to the polls in nearly the numbers they did in 2008.
In 2008, 51 percent of 18- to 19-year-olds voted, according to the research group CIRCLE -- the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement -- which tracks civic involvement among young voters.
That heavily Democratic surge -- part of an even higher turnout of voters ages 18 to 29 -- propelled Barack Obama to the White House.
But earlier this winter, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University predicted a steep drop in young-voter turnout in November. That drop, the center said, would contribute to an overall decline in turnout this November after near record numbers in the last two presidential elections.
That given, Fairfield's registrars of voters are to be lauded for doing their part to engage more youngsters in the electoral process. They will be taking voter-registration drives straight to the town's two public high schools and one of the private secondary schools as well.
The Fairfield registrars plan to visit Fairfield Warde, Fairfield Ludlowe and Notre Dame high schools this spring, as they have in past years. They no longer visit Fairfield Prep because a large percentage of its students don't live in town.
Even 17-year-olds in Connecticut can vote in this year's primaries if they will be 18 by the Nov. 6 general election.
With Connecticut's Republican presidential primary just five weeks away, the registrars' initiatives this spring are timely. The youngest voters -- whether 17 or 18-- who are registered as Republicans can vote in that April 24 presidential primary. With an incumbent Democrat in the White House, there is no Democratic presidential primary.
But registered Democrats and Republicans alike can vote in their respective Connecticut state primaries on Aug. 14. The Republican primary particularly features some heated contests right here in Fairfield County.
In the 2008 presidential election, 66 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 voted. Less than half that percentage -- only 24 percent -- voted in the 2010 mid-term elections, according to CIRCLE. And while mid-term totals typically decline, it is troubling that fewer young voters are expected to cast ballots in this year's presidential race that four years ago.
Obama captured the hopes and imaginations of young voters four years ago. And the American University study attributed the drop in young-voter interest this year to a belief that "Obama the president did not fulfill the hope invested in Obama the candidate."
Still, the presidential contest is just one of at least several intriguing races young Connecticut voters can cut their teeth on. The state will send a new U.S. senator to Washington to replace the retiring Joe Lieberman, and three Fairfield County candidates are in the running for the seat. Republicans Linda McMahon and Chris Shays are in a fiery contest for the Republican nomination, while Democrat William Tong, a state representative from Stamford, is in the fray for his party's nod.
Four Republicans are vying for a chance to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes for his seat.
CIRCLE said the most effective tool in reaching young voters is a knock on the door by a peer. And while Fairfield's registrars will not be mistaken the for teens, they are knocking practically on the doors of students' school lockers.
With voting, however, comes the responsibility of being informed. And in the young-adult world of texts and Twitter, that requires reading more than 140 characters at a time.
The sooner young people register to vote and develop a regular habit of informed voting -- not only in presidential elections, but in mid-term and local elections as well -- the better we are as a democracy.
Kudos to Fairfield's registrars for going out to actively help jump-start that process.