In Tampa Bay, more students are talking politics. But they’re not registering to vote.

Students who survived the Parkland school shooting have become outspoken and inspired political activism. But that doesn't mean more young people are registering to vote in Tampa Bay.
Published Feb. 23, 2018|Updated Feb. 24, 2018

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students who survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people have inspired a new wave of political activism.

From confronting lawmakers in Tallahassee and on CNN to meeting with the President to staging walkouts at their own campuses, high school students across Florida have captured the nation's attention.

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In the Tampa Bay area, students say they sense their fellow students becoming more politically aware after the shooting.

"I think it's become clear that kids of this generation have a strong voice and are willing to fight until they see change," said Jessica Morgan, 15, a freshman at Tampa Catholic High School.

But so far, according to the region's elections officials, that hasn't translated into a sudden wave of new voter registrations by those 18 and up.

"In a general context, they are horrible when it comes to voting," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley of the young voters. "It's dismal."

In fact, Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson said her office conducted a voter registration event at a local college campus soon after the Feb. 14 shooting and didn't register any new voters.

They'll try again when they visit the Spring Hill campus of  Pasco-Hernando State College on Wednesday. Anderson said there's no excuse for young people not to register as soon as they turn 18, especially after the state launched online registration last year at

"They can use the system online to register even in the middle of the night if they want," Anderson said.

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At St. Petersburg High School, discussions about what this latest school shooting means — and what politicians and students across the state were doing about it — pervaded classroom conversations.

"I feel like all the students are taking action and the government is starting to notice," said junior Lauren Becker, 16. "Because it was so close to us, it really struck home it could be real."

Morgan said many of her peers at Tampa Catholic were inspired by the Parkland students. Her social media feeds have been filled with posts talking about what those kids have been doing.

Tyu Walker, a 16-year-old sophomore at Gibbs High School, said while he thought students seemed more aware of the impact on politics on their lives, he wasn't sure if that activism would continue when it comes time to vote later this year.

"Probably not," he said with a shrug. By then, he said, students will probably be paying attention to other things.

IN THE GRADEBOOK: After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: 'This is not a joke' (w/video)

But while most students aren't old enough to vote yet, some held out hope that they can influence politics in other ways.

"I don't think it'll make people previously not involved more active, but it'll change the issues people are talking about," said senior Connor Smith, 17, the class president at St. Petersburg High. "I think we'll be talking a lot more about gun control and domestic issues."

St. Petersburg High's Catherine Lee, a 16-year-old junior, said she hopes adults will start to take young voices more seriously.

"Things are changing," she said. "I think because it happened at a high school, we're older and know how to use our voice. I hope that they remember this and this inspires us to vote."

Lee said she intends to vote in the 2018 election, but wasn't sure if she had pre-registered already. She said she'll soon check on her status.

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So far, that sentiment hasn't resulted in any noticeable uptick in the number of people registering to vote, according to the Supervisors of Elections in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

They told the Tampa Bay Times that they haven't seen any signs of more young people registering to vote — or pre-registering for when they turn 18.

In Hillsborough County, the elections office said it regularly goes into high schools to conduct voter registration drives. Last week the staff went to Steinbrenner High School and Sickles High School to register new voters.

But even with those efforts, Hillsborough added just 102 new voters between the ages of 16-20 register last week. The fourth-most populated county in Florida currently has 827,553 registered voters, and about 72 percent of them (608,263  people) voted in the 2016 presidential election.

Still, voters between the ages of 18-25 are the second biggest voting demographic in Hillsborough. Those 101,000 or so young voters represent about 12 percent of total voters. The biggest voting bloc, of course, are the nearly 156,000 voters age 66 and up who are 19 percent of the electorate.

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said he believes that young voters are actually doing a good job of registering to vote. His office also started using Twitter to let students know when his staff will be at their schools so they'll come prepared to register.

"We work closely with all the high schools," he said. "We do see a good return on that. They know we're coming."

In Pinellas, which has more than 644,000 registered voters, Deputy Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus said her office also works closely with high school students, hosting mock elections to get teens familiar with voting equipment used in actual elections.

Last week, Pinellas officials registered 78 new voters ages 18-25. There are about 57,000 voters in that age range, or about 9 percent of county voters. But that is a smaller bloc in Pinellas, ranked fifth in age categories behind the nearly 176,000 voters ages 66 and up. They're 27 percent of total voters.

Pasco County has 337,850 registered voters and about 9 percent (31,964) are in the 18-25 age bracket. But Corley said the problem with young voters is that even when they register to vote, they still don't actually vote.

"I always tell them voting is power and they can make change if they vote …," he said. "Part of being an American is being able to register to vote and voting in the elections. Even if you're happy or unhappy, you get to repeat it every two years."

But Morgan said she's not concerned that students aren't rushing out to register as voters. After all, the Aug. 28 primary is six months away and the Nov. 6 general election is even further out.

"Kids wait until the last minute to do everything …," she said. "There is so much on the line worth voting for.

"I believe that the turnout will be bigger than ever before among young people."

Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.