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Grant funding helps a South Florida group mobilize young voters ahead of midterms

A young Miami voter wears her "I voted today" sticker in October 2012.
J Pat Carter
A young Miami voter wears her "I voted today" sticker in October 2012.

Grassroots efforts to energize and inform young voters in South Florida just got a financial boost.

TheSouthern Poverty Law Centerhas awarded roughly $390,000 worth of grant funding to Engage Miami, a nonpartisan voter outreach group aimed at fostering civic engagement among young people.

"At the end of the day, every South Florida voter wants to know that their vote matters, that they're important and that they have a stake in where our community is going," said Engage Miami executive director Rebecca Pelham.

The goal of the organization is to help younger people navigate some of the administrative obstacles to voting.

READ MORE: Changes to Florida's voting rules leads to confusion at the polls in South Florida

Engage Miami has already used some of the funding to launch a group of 10 student fellows, tasked with helping students update their voter registration information and keeping their peers informed of legislative changes to the voting process.

The SPLC distributed an additional $4.6 million among five states in the deep South as part of the organization's Vote Your Voices Initiative. EngageMiami received $90,000 of that grant money as a supplement to a $300,000 grant that it was awarded last year.

Engage Miami student fellows.jpg
Lexey Swall
Engage Miami
Student fellows help Engage Miami's voter outreach efforts on school campuses across South Florida, by registering people to vote and keeping peers informed of issues on the ballot.

Amy Dominguez-Arms, a senior advisor for the SPLC, said they chose Engage Miami, in part, because of its focus on mobilizing young voters, particularly Gen Z and millennial Black and Latinx voters.

"We know these are states with changing demographics, increasing populations of communities of color and also historic limitations and barriers placed on people to exercise their democratic rights," she said.

Engaging young voters is a major priority for the SPLC, Dominguez-Arms said, citing a low turnout among this population.

READ MORE: 2020 Election: The Voting Power Of Latino Youth

Voter registration rates among younger people have become the biggest obstacle to higher turnout among younger voters, according to research from the Civics Center.

In Miami-Dade County, approximatively 25 percentof 18-year-olds are registered to vote while 30 percent are registered to vote in Broward County.

Young voter registrations increase as activists demonstrated for gun control reforms the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Young voter registrations increase as activists demonstrated for gun control reforms the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Younger generations have shown they care about the issues such as climate change, reproductive rights and housing affordability, Pelham said. However, the transient nature of South Florida, particularly during the pandemic, had students learning remotely, also posing a challenge to voter registration efforts.

"I think it's more of an indicator of the level of challenges that people are facing on a day-to-day basis and really shows the need to make voting more accessible, even as folks are navigating all these different moves and transitions and kind of finding their place in making South Florida the home that we envision it to be," Pelham said.

Engage Miami has made a point of canvassing door-to-door in neighborhoods, hosting outdoor events and launching their voter registration program much earlier in the year.

"We want to have a culture of civic engagement that is impactful, bold and creative, and really reflects the many different communities that make South Florida what it is," Pelham said.

The organization hopes to use the funding expand their efforts not only in Miami-Dade, but Broward and Palm Beach counties, ahead of the November elections.

Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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