Parkland/March For Our Lives Activists Hit The Road To Register Young Voters Across The Country Student survivors from the shooting in Parkland, Fla., embark on a 20-state bus tour aimed at registering young people to vote, but this demographic typically sits out mid-term elections.

Parkland Survivors Launch Tour To Register Young Voters And Get Them Out In November

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The student survivors turned activists from Parkland, Fla., hit the road this summer. They'll make 50-plus stops in more than 20 states in their mission to try to turn the gun control wave they sparked in the spring into an energized voting block for midterm elections. The tour kicked off last night in Chicago.




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SIMON: But turnout is typically low in midterm elections, especially for young people. NPR's Brakkton Booker explains whether there are signs of change this year.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: The tour is called Road to Change. Twenty-year-old Matt Deitsch is the chief strategist for March For Our Lives.

MATT DEITSCH: The main point of this tour is not just to educate people on gun violence and what we can do to prevent gun violence, but it is to register more people to vote.

BOOKER: In the time since 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, young people have become a potent force in the gun debate. They've warned federal lawmakers enact stricter gun laws or be voted out. After three months of marches and rallies, not much has changed on the national level. Now, the tactic is mobilizing new, young voters.

DEITSCH: For the most part, we're making voting cool.

BOOKER: The hope is to rev up those potential voters through a pair of bus tours, one solely focused on Florida, another that will crisscross the nation. Organizers say that along the way they will visit places with frequent gun violence, as well as meet with pro-gun rights groups. The main focus, though, is turning out the vote. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg studies political and civic engagement of young Americans at Tufts University.

KEI KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: You know, young people generally vote at a pretty low rate in midterm years as compared to the presidential years.

BOOKER: It was paltry for the 2014 midterms - around 16 percent for 18 to 24-year-olds, according to the Census Bureau. I asked Kawashima-Ginsberg, is there any evidence things could be different in 2018?

KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG: And what we did find was that in a lot of states, the youth registration numbers have actually exceeded the numbers from the November of 2016. And that's really significant because young people mostly registered to vote for the first time in September and October of the election year.

BOOKER: She points to blue states like California and deep-red Alabama as places that have seen increases in youth voter registration. Doug Heye is a GOP strategist and says there is still a long time before the November elections.

DOUG HEYE: Maintaining voter interest and also maintaining a presence over a long-term period - we're talking about another five months - is hard to do for any kind of movement.

BOOKER: He praises how the Parkland activists have been able to sustain the gun discussion for so long. But the real test is whether they can match the voting intensity by those who are for gun rights.

HEYE: Most voters aren't necessarily single-issue voters, but if you are a single-issue voter and guns is the issue, what we've seen in the past is that it's the pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun voter that really is almost guaranteed to show up at the polls.

BOOKER: Matt Deitsch, the chief strategist for March For Our Lives, is up for the challenge because he says lives are at stake.

DEITSCH: We're making voting something that isn't just checking a box. It's literally you being a hero and you saving lives, and that's what we have to do with this.

BOOKER: The Road to Change is in Chicago the rest of the day, before pulling into St. Louis tomorrow. Brakkton Booker, NPR News.

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