TAMPA — The Sickles High School seniors streaming into the auditorium on a recent Thursday morning had a lot in common. Grouped together, sitting in the green, plastic pull down seats, they chatted about weekend outings and listened to music through headphones jammed into their ears.
Brought together to hear a pitch about voter registration, many of the 17- and 18-year-olds also shared the same reaction about committing to any political party: No thanks.
Some teens, like Matt Salinas, opted to not choose a party, and register with "no party affiliation," a choice that gives him freedom to change his mind.
"Basically, I'm open to both sides," the 17-year-old Hispanic senior said. "I'm open to both ideas to whatever they have to say at the time. I don't exactly know everything about each party and haven't done all the research I need to do yet — you can't just (pick a party) without knowing."
Sitting next to Salinas, Sergio Acuna —who is also 17 and identifies as Hispanic — said he also decided to register with no party affiliation. "(This way) I'm not just on one side," he said.
Their decision comes at a cost: They won't be able to vote in primary elections if not affiliated with a major party.
Ana De La Guardia , a 17-year-old senior, realized that when she opted to register as a Democrat.
"I registered with a party, but I don't really have an . . . affiliation, because I think parties (are) a bad thing," she said, but "in order to vote for whatever special elections, you have to have a party affiliation."
Other seniors who chose to register with a party did so for different reasons: They had strong opinions of their own or their parents' party affiliations influenced them or they just felt pressured to make a choice even if uncertain about their political beliefs.
Cynthia Ledesma, 18, said she felt a lot of teens pick NPA because they don't feel educated enough to make a choice.
"Education has everything to do with it," she said. "We don't (always) have the wisdom, or knowledge . . . on what either side offers, so that's why a lot of people choose to go without a party when they register."
Contact Hanna Marcus at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @hannaemarcus.