Nobody sat in the back row.
Students filled the front rows at the center of the auditorium at Tampa’s King High School during an optional voter registration campaign put on Wednesday by the Hillsborough County Elections Office. They were chattering when they walked in, but the room silenced when county officials started speaking.
They were ready to build on a political movement started by students in South Florida after a deadly school shooting there two weeks ago.
Elections officials passed out voter registration information as part of an outreach effort to all 28 public high schools in Hillsborough County to increase the number of young voters.
“I see a lot of people expressing their opinions and their views, but in order to really bring that change, we need to step out and take action,” senior Deanta Pittman said. “What our country allows you to do is get up and vote.”
The Elections Office hosts a county-wide registration competition each election year. King High placed first and second for registering the most voters in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
“We go to all of the high schools twice a year in Hillsborough County to give 16- and 17-year-olds the opportunity to preregister to vote,” Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said. “We average about 3,000 students a year.”
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, more students around the state and the nation have become politically active.
“There’s actually something special going on right now,” Pittman said. “Just seeing our generation getting up and making a change.”
On Wednesday, King High registered and preregistered over 150 students. The students understand that they have the ability to make a change in the world with their votes.
“It is important because once we get older, we’ve got to realize this is going to be our earth, going to be our country, and it’s going to be our responsibility,” Pittman said. “We’re at the age where we’ve got to acknowledge that responsibility and take care of it.”
According to Latimer, the registration campaigns are successful, but it's only the first part of increasing voter turnout.
“What we’re seeing is an increase in the number of 18-25 year olds who are registering to vote,” Latimer said. “In 2016, that was the second largest block of voters by age group. They were also, though, the lowest turnout to vote, so I think that’s where work needs to be done.”