In summary

More California teens are registered to vote this year than in 2016, reflecting higher engagement and a determination to make a difference.

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Nineteen-year-old Anthony Navarro voted for the first time today, motivated by his desire to see an end to racial inequality and tension.

“It’s more important to vote now than in any other time,” said the student, who attends California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “A lot of my friends are voting,” he said, including older friends who are finally deciding to cast a ballot.

It was Victoria Najera’s first time, too. “I’ve been waiting so long for this day,” the 18-year-old Cerritos College student said, after she dropped off a ballot outside the Los Angeles County registrar’s headquarters in Norwalk. “I feel like I’m making a change, just one vote at a time.”

The two teens are among many whose early votes reflect the higher engagement of young voters this year. Just under 6.18 million youth aged 18 to 34 are registered to vote this year, up from 4.45 million in 2016, according to the U.S. Census and Political Data, Inc.

Young voters still don’t vote as often as their elders, despite this year’s higher engagement. 

As of today, 38% of registered voters between the ages of 18 to 34 had turned in their ballots, more than 2.36 million voters. That compares to 47% of those between 35 to 49 years, 58% of those between 50 to 64 years, and 72% of seniors 65 and older, according to Political Data Inc.

A July YouGov-University of California poll shows engagement went beyond registration. It found that 60% of surveyed youth encouraged friends or family to vote for a presidential candidate, and more than half encouraged others to vote for a local or statewide candidate. 

“I just want our country to be our country again,” Najera said of her decision to vote. “It’s inhumane how our country has become.”

Najera said her best friend motivated her to vote, and that her Cerritos College softball team also has first-time voters who are passionate about the election.

Akin to her counterparts in Generation Z, she said she distrusts television news and instead scrolls through her social media feeds for information. “We want to make a change,” she said. “We see everything on social media and it’s gotten really bad.” 

Najera posed for her father’s camera phone beside the ballot box in Norwalk. He said he’s proud of her.

“I don’t recall if I remember being this active at 18,” Gerome Najera said. “To be honest, the direction our country is in, it kind of forces people to be active.”

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Graduate School of Journalism.

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Michael Lozano leads CalMatters’ Youth Journalism Initiative assessing the state of California’s journalism education and industry pipeline. He previously covered election administration for CalMatters...