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Study finds statewide civics tests don't improve voter turnout, including in Florida

People fill out ballots at voting booths
David Santiago
Miami Herald via AP
People casting their vote during the midterm elections in Miami-Dade County at the Miami Beach Fire Department - Station 3 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla.

Civics literacy exams, like the ones required by Florida schools, don’t encourage more young people to vote, according to a new study.

The Florida Civic Literacy Exam is a computer-based assessment that measures students’ civics know-how. Since 2021, all students in U.S. Government classes in the state must take and pass the exam.

A new study out of Pennsylvania State University found that tests like these actually don’t improve voter turnout amongst our nation’s youngest voters. UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett said he wasn’t shocked by the results.

Eighteen states require students to take a civics test.

“I think that the main reason young voters don't turn out is not because they don't know anything about civic education. It's because they're just not motivated to turn out and vote. They don't see that their vote makes a huge difference. They don't feel that most politicians are addressing issues they care about," said Jewett.

READ MORE: Florida leaders are sued over the restoration of felon voting rights

He said there are other, better ways to improve voting numbers in this youngest demographic.

“One, try to pass some laws that make it a little easier to vote. Two, for the politicians, they need to do a better job of trying to address issues that young voters care about," said Jewett. "I think the political parties themselves could also do more to try to mobilize and motivate younger voters.”

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, only about 22% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 participated in the 2022 midterms.

Michigan (37%), Maine, Minnesota, Oregon (all 36%), Colorado (33%), and Pennsylvania (32%) had the highest youth turnout rates in the country. Researchers found Michigan led with the highest new voter turnout because the state made it easier to vote, using online and automatic voter registration.

Whereas in Florida, new elections law SB 7050 has put more restrictions in place for voting-by-mail. The law also increases the fine for certain volunteers who help register people to vote.

Jewett said all of these are additional hurdles to the ballot box.

Copyright 2023 WMFE.

Danielle Prieur
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