Slacktivism or Activism?

Youth vote could turn tide in November midterms
Galvanized in part by a spate of school shootings, a record number of 18 to 22-year-olds have registered to vote this year. Above, East Hampton High School student activists joined in a national school walkout in March. Durell Godfrey

If a “blue wave” is coming in November, it could strike our South Fork shores, largely due to a recent surge in youth voter registration.

Although one of the abiding realities of American politics is that young voters do not participate proportionally in midterm elections, we’re in what some call “the golden age of student activism.” Propelled by a spate of school shootings, anger over gun laws, and a continuing disapproval of President Trump, a record number of 18 to 22-year-olds registered to vote this year. More important, a recent study conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics showed a marked increase in this age group of those who said that they will “definitely be voting” in the November elections.

New York State reported a 10-percent increase in youth registration this year but the reality is that on Nov. 6, the date of the midterm elections, most of those eligible first-time voters will be away at colleges and universities, or traveling abroad — in other words, out of the district in which they are registered. 

But here on the East End — New York’s First Congressional District is one of 108 congressional districts nationwide that intersect with pivotal counties that went from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 — younger voters seem undeterred by geography and appear to be galvanized to exercise their right to vote via absentee ballot. Most first-time voters polled on the South Fork said they will vote for Perry Gershon, the Democratic candidate seeking to replace the Republican Lee Zeldin, elected in 2014 to the House of Representatives.

Tali Friedman of Springs, a freshman at Butler University in Indiana who graduated from the Ross School in June, said she will be sending in her absentee vote for Nov. 6 because “I am unhappy with the way the government is currently being run. I disagree with many of the social and political issues of this president’s administration.” 

For Tali, and other young voters, the need for Mr. Zeldin to be replaced is clear. As reported in The Star, Mr. Zeldin has accepted $14,850 from the National Rifle Association since his first congressional run, the most of any sitting New York representative, earning an A rating as a solidly pro-gun candidate who has reliably supported N.R.A. positions.

Maya Schultz, who graduated from East Hampton High School in June and attends Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., registered to vote in August and is awaiting her absentee ballot. She will vote for Mr. Gershon because “Lee Zeldin is in lockstep with Trump and I don’t support Trump. I want common-sense gun control and the right to choose, and Zeldin doesn’t want either.”

Another recent Ross School alumnus, Kai Parcher-Charles, is taking a gap year and is currently in Prague in the Czech Republic, studying filmmaking. Despite the distance, Kai has taken the necessary measures to cast his absentee vote for Mr. Gershon and explained his reasons in an email.

“I’m very uncomfortable with what’s going on in our country right now. I feel voting is taking the first step in taking the next step to bringing change,” wrote Kai. “I think my age group will make a difference . . . if everyone in my age group were to make it their priority to not only vote but to educate themselves about our political environment as well, it would be huge.”

Historically, young people have the lowest turnout rate of all age groups because they are more transient and have not yet established the habit of voting. Students also face unique voting hurdles, including proof of residency, absentee ballot use, and voter identification — all issues that tend to unfairly affect college students because so many students travel out of state for college. Confusion and misinformation results in one in five mail-in ballots submitted by 18 to 24-year-olds being rejected because it arrives late.

All this has led universities and colleges to facilitate the process of student voter registration and absentee voting. Stony Brook University has joined forces with the Vote Everywhere, a program that is part of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, whose goal is to “ensure that every new student at Stony Brook University has an opportunity to register to vote, and to vote.” To date, this Long Island chapter claims to have helped 13,000 students register to vote.

Likewise, more than 176 colleges and universities around the country have formed a partnership with TurboVote, a nonpartisan effort that aims to increase voter engagement on college and university campuses. TurboVote has developed an app that offers a “one-stop-shop” voter platform available to students at campuses throughout the country as well as through companies like Starbucks, Univision, Facebook, Google, and Snapchat.

For Milo Munshin, a Sag Harbor native and freshman at the New School in Manhattan, an absentee vote for Mr. Gershon is forthcoming. “I’m well aware that every vote counts and would like to have someone with beliefs that align with mine in office,” he said.

With younger voters seemingly poised to have an outsize impact in key races in November, here are some facts about registering and casting an absentee ballot:

You must be a registered voter in Suffolk County with a valid reason to vote absentee. New York explicitly allows students to keep their voting residency even if they move out of their district to attend school, and the only way they will lose this is by establishing residency in a new state.

Voter registration and absentee ballot applications can be downloaded on the Suffolk County Board of Elections website (suffolkvotes.com) or at vote.org. 

Absentee ballot applications should be mailed to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, P.O. Box 700, Yaphank 11980, postmarked no later than the seventh day before the election. Generally, at least 20 days before the election is advisable.

Validated applicants will receive an absentee ballot in the mail. The completed absentee ballot must be postmarked by a governmental postal ser­vice not later than the day before the election and received no later than the seventh day after the election.