Florida is home to an ever-growing Hispanic/Latino population, which currently numbers nearly four million. And it’s there that the growing number of Hispanic/Latino youths reaching college and the ever-increasing number of Hispanics/Latinos registering and turning out to vote seem to be positively correlated.
“There’s a pattern of increased youth voting,” said Abby Kiesa, youth coordinator and researcher with Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). CIRCLE has noted that the number of Hispanics/Latinos aged 18-29 that participated in the voting process went up from 35% to 41% between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Kiesa believes there are many factors influencing this pattern, including the fact that presidential campaigns are paying more attention to young people.
“But having more youth in a higher education environment is definitely a factor,” she said. “There are a lot of efforts to help [higher education] institutions think about supporting civic involvement.”
The University of Miami’s Get Out The Vote campaign is just one example of efforts that colleges make to keep their students engaged.
“Get Out The Vote is meant to help students register to vote, educate them about the voting process, and actually get them out to vote,” said Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president of the University’s Division of Student Affairs and the organization’s advisor. “Student leaders include Democrats and Republicans, but when they work to get students to register, they wear their [non-partisan] ‘Voters Are Sexy’ t-shirts.”
The organization does everything from keeping track of students’ voter registration forms to making sure they’ve been accepted by the Florida Division of Elections and getting students try again if they haven’t been to hosting ballot information sessions and setting up shuttles to take students to early voting sites. It has also partnered with TurboVote, a non-partisan non-profit that helps those who enroll on their website register to vote, get absentee ballots so they can vote by mail, and receive reminders about upcoming voting opportunities.
“Our goal is to make the voting process accessible to all Americans,” said Sam Novey, TurboVote’s director of partnerships. “One strategy for reaching as many people as possible is to work with colleges. Young people are more mobile and could use help with things like registering and re-registering.”
The number of Hispanic/Latino youths being exposed to opportunities such as those made available by organizations like Get Out the Vote and TurboVote is definitely increasing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Hispanic/Latino student enrollment in college has increased over the past 40 years; 32% of Hispanics/Latinos are now in college. Census data show that the number of Hispanic/Latino students enrolling in Florida colleges is growing at a rate quite similar to Hispanic/Latino voter registration and turnout within the state.
“At the University of Miami, I do see a vast [number] of Hispanic students participating in civic activities. Of the three [Get Out The Vote/TurboVote] leaders, two, including myself, are Hispanic,” said Alessandria San Roman, a self-described first generation American of Cuban descent whose parents also attended college in the states. “We also have numerous Hispanic volunteers on our team.”
Karen Hernandez, a senior at the University of Miami who is originally from Colombia, takes advantage of on-campus events to stay civically informed and engaged. “I’ve gone to forums to learn more about the health care bill and recently attended an Obama event at the Bank United Center. If you look for information on campus, you will find it,” she said.
CIRCLE’s Keisa seems encouraged by the positive patterns in youth civic engagement, including among Hispanic/Latino youths, but believes that the numbers could be better and that this is still a topic to be discussed and explored in depth.
“In 2012, 42% of 18-29 year olds in Florida don’t have any college experience," she said. “People who haven’t had any college experience participate [in civic activities] a lot less than students who have had any experience…but higher education is just one stakeholder. We also need to think about other stakeholders who could be engaging youths.”