A. Garcia / SFVS

A representative with the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office helps 18-year-old Kevin Hernandez to register to vote for the first time at Los Angeles Mission College.

For his 19th birthday this November, Kevin Hernandez promises to do something he’s never done before. He will vote.

The Arleta resident registered to vote on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Los Angeles Mission College, where representatives from Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office came to sign up people. It was part of an effort to register young people on National Voter Registration Day.

Millennials and young people in general are often missing from voter rosters or voting polls. Spokeswoman Sandra Mendoza said the City Clerk’s Office hopes to change that by heading out to high schools, community colleges and cultural events to “reach as many people as we can.”

The City Clerk’s Office is not alone in spreading the voting word.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was at Poly High School in Sun Valley on Tuesday to announce that 209,577 pre-registration transactions have been completed by California 16- and 17-year-olds since the program was launched in September 2016. More than 104,000 have turned 18 and are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

“Whether this will be your first time voting or you’re a veteran, the first step to casting a ballot is to have an up-to-date voter registration,” Padilla said. “There are many important contests and issues on this November ballot, and I want every voter’s voice to be heard. If you are 16 or 17, you won’t be able to vote this November, but you can still pre-register to vote so you’re ready to cast a ballot as soon as you turn 18.”

Even though he turned 18-years-old last November, Hernandez had not bothered to register. When asked why, he said he’d been busy with school.

But he doesn’t want to stay on the sidelines anymore.

“It’s important to know who’s going to be in government, and we should know what they’re going to do and plan to do,” Hernandez said. “I really want to be a part of it.”

Millennials are an unpredictable voting bloc. Young voters could have an outsized influence on a number of important races in the upcoming midterm elections. But experts are split on whether this will be a watershed year for a millennial turnout.

Mindy Romeo, founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the USC Price School of Public Policy, applauds the efforts to reach out to young voters.

“Young people vote in very low numbers in the US. It’s not because they’re apathetic, or they just don’t care. They care very much. Our civic and electoral structures are designed in a way that discourages young people from voting, leaving them with a smaller voice in the political process,” she said.

Part of the problem is that voting day is often on a Tuesday, when many younger people are working or attending school. Often they aren’t aware that their employers must give them the time to go vote.

“What I think we are starting to see here in California, which is really exciting, is a number of election reforms that in some way support young people — or at least young people are a part of the targeting around that electoral reform to try to open up access,” Romeo said.

Voter Registration Competition

To create excitement for the elections — when Californians will be electing their next Governor and federal Senator, among other races — and get more people registered to vote, Padilla has launched the California University and College Ballot Bowl competition (https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-bowl/).  

The contest includes all university and college systems in the state and will run through October 22, the statewide voter registration deadline. To participate, schools must register their campus with the Secretary of State’s office and have its students register to vote through an online URL. The URL allows students and alumni to select their college or university whether updating their registration or registering for the first time. 

Awards will be given to the campus in each education system with the largest number of students registered to vote, the largest percentage of its student body registered to vote, and the campus with the most creative approaches to registering students to vote.

Trump the motivator

Some voters like Adrian Gonzalez don’t need that kind of motivation.

The Los Angeles Mission College student is voting this Nov. 6 because of the guy currently occupying the White House.

“The one in power right now (President Donald Trump) doesn’t like Latinos, doesn’t support Latinos and that’s not fair,” said Gonzalez, 46.

“You have to vote because with your vote you can change policies in the country. We can elect the people we want to be in power and [in favor of] fair rules. We all have the right to progress. And if we see that something is not working, we need to vote. We can have a voice.”

Gonzalez took the time on Tuesday to register again because he recently changed his address.

That’s an additional reminder Secretary Padilla sent out on National Voter Registration Day.

“If you have moved or changed your name, you need to update your voter registration,” Padilla said. “If you want to change your political party preference or receive your ballot by mail, you can do so easily by updating your registration and preferences either online or using a paper form.”

If you need to register to vote, you can do so online at Lavote.net or at your local library and post office.