Las Vegas Sun

May 19, 2019

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Analysis finds uptick in younger voter registrations after Parkland massacre

'Keeping Up with the Candidates'

Miranda Alam/Special to The Sun

State Youth Director of NextGen America Tyson Negown speaks during the Keeping Up with the Candidates panel hosted by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

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The number of young people registered to vote in Nevada is up 6.6 percent in the five months following a mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Available data from 40 states show almost across-the-board increases in young people registering to vote since the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to TargetSmart, a firm that conducts research for Democratic groups.

It’s typical for voter registration numbers to go up heading toward Election Day, but the increases identified in the TargetSmart analysis among 18- to-29-year-olds are unprecedented, said Tyson Megown, state director for NextGen America, a group that stems from an organization started by major Democratic donor Tom Steyer.

“The fact that we’re seeing these kinds of increases this early on is certainly out of the norm, especially in a midterm,” Megown said.

The Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas has been top-of-mind for many of the people the group has met since launching its voter registration effort in Nevada in the second week of February, Megown said. The group does not have data showing the potential impact of the Oct. 1 shooting on voter registration.

“It’s not something that they’re going to take anymore,” Megown said of young residents of Nevada and Parkland, Fla. “Were seeing that action in a lot of ways. A lot of that’s voter registration — folks are coming to volunteer with us and knock on doors for us and talk to voters, because they don’t think this is a problem we can’t solve.”

NextGen works to register new voters regardless of party. Since February, the group has registered more than 3,600 residents to vote in Nevada, going to schools and off-campus locations where prospective voters are likely to be, Megown said.

Nevada’s increase is about average compared with the growth in other states, Megown said. The report, released July 19, shows double-digit spikes in New York and Rhode Island. West Virginia, meanwhile, experienced the sharpest decrease in young registered voters, down more than 11 percent. Nationwide, the increase is more than 2 percent, according to TargetSmart.

“That was sort of a national awakening of young folks across the country,” Megown said of the Parkland shooting. “As you can tell from the report, it wasn’t just Nevada. We’ve seen a really encouraging surge in most states across the country.”

UNLV junior and March for Our Lives activist Karl Catarata said his first brush with gun violence was in 2014, when a couple who killed two Metro Police officers fled to a nearby Walmart where Catarata was shopping with this family. The family escaped through an emergency exit. Last year, Catarata was at Mandalay Bay just 15 minutes before the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival began.

“It just really (spurred) me to get involved when it comes to protecting students and when it comes to making sure that there isn’t a mass shooting at UNLV, there isn’t a mass shooting at CSN, there isn’t a mass shooting at Nevada State College,” he said. “It’s a really hot-button topic and issue among young voters right now.”

Catarata said he’s seen gun violence inspire first-time activists who may not have otherwise become involved in politics. In Nevada especially, he said, residents have not seen real reform on gun laws either before or after Oct. 1.

A group convened by Gov. Brian Sandoval has made recommendations about school safety, such as a call for more school resource officers. While many changes will take time and money to act on, the state has also been unable to enforce its narrowly approved gun background check law from 2016. Catarata said Oct. 1 spurred local activism that was further buoyed by frustrations over the mothballed background check law, and that after Parkland, local activists looked to respond further, organizing walkouts and marching for gun law reform.

“We are a battleground state,” he said. “As we are a battle born state, we are also responsible gun owners, and we should be leading the nation.”

The uptick in Nevada’s young voter registration numbers has been helped by Senate Bill 144, passed by the 2017 Legislature, Megown said. The bill opened up pre-registration for 17-year-olds who would be 18 by Election Day. Megown said NextGen has met teens who were excited to take advantage of the new law, noting that the group has always tried to engage this age group as well as new voters who are a bit older.

The group focuses on education as well, Megown said, especially on early voting, to help ensure these newly registered voters actually turn in ballots.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that all Nevadans have,” he said. “We’re very much encouraging young people, especially those who have never done this before, just about how easy that process is so that they’re more encouraged to follow through at the end.”