‘Laziness’ a factor in low millennial voter turnout, top Mississippi election official says

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While national experts predict a record turnout among millennials on Election Day, a top Mississippi election official doesn’t have such high hopes.

Kim Turner, an assistant secretary of state who oversees the office’s elections division, dished last month at a public forum about why turnout among people aged 18 to 34 is so low.

“They’re not used to going to a post office and mailing a letter or buying a stamp or some of these things that are relatively easy to do in this generation that now has an app for everything,” Turner said of young voters while speaking on a panel sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council in late October.

“You basically don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to. You can get food delivered to you, groceries delivered to you. Target will deliver to you — Netflix, movies on demand. You don’t have to leave the house. I’ve also talked to a lot of other elected officials: There is a laziness, and that maybe goes hand in hand with what I’m saying about the ease of access for so many different products and services. There is an apathy on part of our voters.”

Turner did not immediately responded to a follow-up request for clarification of her remarks.

Leah Rupp Smith, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said the agency is concerned about a lack of interest in elections at any level.

“We have held public forums across the State, led hundreds of schools to ‘Promote the Vote,’ participated in voter registration drives at universities, engaged our local election officials, and helped thousands of Mississippi men and women who are fighting overseas cast their ballots, among other programs and initiatives,” Smith told Mississippi Today.

“We are hopeful all of these efforts by officials and others in the State make a difference, and at least 50 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot on November 6.”

Mississippi is home to almost 500,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Census community survey statistics, making millennials and those in Generation Z, roughly born around the turn of the century, among the state’s largest voting blocs. Statewide candidates this year — particularly Democratic Senate candidates Mike Espy and David Baria, considering these generations lean heavily Democratic, at least nationally — have worked hard to earn the votes of millennials.

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But as Turner suggested during the panel discussion, millennials have not carried their weight at the polls, according to several national data analyses.

In 2014, the last midterm election year, about 20 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 cast a ballot, according to data from CIRCLE, compared with 46 percent in the 2016 election. However, a poll conducted by CIRCLE earlier this year suggests an uptick from this generation, with 34 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds saying they’re “extremely likely” to vote.

Additionally, a Harvard poll released in October suggests that the turnout by millennial and Generation Z voters in this week’s midterm election could be the highest in three decades among 18 to 29-year olds.

Mississippi Votes, a millennial-led nonprofit launched in 2017 with a focus on registering young voters in the state, says they registered at least 2,000 new voters in 2018 through grassroots initiatives in seven counties and on nine college campuses. Mississippi Votes’ executive director Arekia Bennett, a millennial herself, pushed back on Turner’s assessment at the same event last month.

“I’m not fighting you about the apathy, but I just believe that young people in Mississippi are saying, ‘Yo, we’re not just voting, but we’re making educated votes, and we’re going to take back offices and do what the world said Mississippi won’t do,’” Bennett said. “We know it’s up to us to create a culture of civic engagement.”