With next Tuesday's voter registration deadline quickly approaching for the March 15 Illinois primary election, Cook County Clerk David Orr is reaching out to young people about the importance of voting and how they can register.
Orr spoke to Evanston Township High School students Thursday morning, and his staff helped eligible teens register to vote before the regular registration period ends February 16. Evanston Township High School's community service club has already registered about 180 students to vote so far this election cycle.
In Illinois, 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the November 8 general election can participate in the primary election.
Speaking to Progress Illinois after his youth voter engagement event, Orr said his office has "seen a lot of interest" in registration among 17-year-olds, with at least a few thousand teens taking advantage of the opportunity thus far.
Orr discussed the importance of the youth vote and how it is influencing the presidential primary races.
"When young people vote, they can have a dramatic" impact, Orr said.
Youth participation was high in the first-in-the-nation caucus and primary states.
Tuesday's New Hampshire primary saw a 43 percent youth voter turnout, tying with 2008's record-breaking results, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). CIRCLE is a non-partisan research center on youth engagement at Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
More than 89,500 people aged 18 to 29 voted in the New Hampshire primary, representing 17 percent of all primary voters in the state.
"This represents the largest number of young people participating in the primaries, and the largest proportion of the electorate, in the past 20 years of New Hampshire primaries," reads CIRCLE's report. "The estimated turnout among youth of 43 percent ties the tremendous turnout in 2008, and both are far above another comparable primary in 2000, which recorded a 28 percent turnout."
Young Democratic New Hampshire primary voters overwhelmingly backed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 83 percent to 16 percent. On the Republican side, businessman Donald Trump, the primary winner, garnered the highest percentage of the youth vote at 37 percent, followed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at 16 percent.
Young people also played a key role in last week's Iowa caucuses, CIRCLE's analysis shows.
Youth turnout in the Iowa caucuses was estimated to be 11 percent, totaling 53,215 people aged 18 to 29. In the Republican Iowa caucus, a record-breaking 22,000 young people voted, with 26 percent of their support going to Cruz, the caucus winner, followed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at 23 percent and Trump at 20 percent.
In the Democratic Iowa caucuses, Sanders received 84 percent of the youth vote, compared to Clinton's 14 percent. Clinton barely won the Iowa caucus by just .2 percentage points. There were an estimated 31,000 young Democratic Iowa caucus-goers, the second highest youth turnout after 2008's results.
CIRCLE Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg said the "Iowa caucuses demonstrated the potential power of young people to shape elections."
"In the Democratic caucus, young voters helped to propel Senator Sanders to a virtual tie, and Republican youth broke their own record of caucus participation," Kawashima-Ginsberg said in a statement. "One message is clear: when candidates and campaigns ask young people to participate and inspire them to get involved, they respond."
In her New Hampshire concession speech, Clinton acknowledged that she has some work to do when it comes to winning over young people.
For "someone as powerful as Hillary Clinton to be saying publicly she has a hard time with young people, it's kind of devastating," Orr said. "It's usually something that people won't even talk about."
Election results from the early voting states speak to the "very unusual politics of this presidential cycle and people's frustration" that has sparked popularity for "outsider" candidates, Orr said.
"A lot of what's generating that excitement is young people that believe the system needs more dramatic change," he added. "And I think that's why they're jumping to support these folks" considered to be non-establishment candidates.
Orr expects a higher youth voter turnout in the Illinois primary compared to 2012, explaining that contested presidential primary races tend to spur increased voter participation.
"If you follow the numbers, when Obama ran and it was first contested, [there was a] higher turnout. The second time it looked like he was gonna win Illinois anyway, a smaller turnout," Orr said. "So, nationally, the presidential election, I think, will drive increased turnout."
The U.S. Senate race in Illinois and the Cook County State's Attorney's contest are also likely to boost youth turnout, Orr said.
Orr, who has held various youth voter registration events so far this election cycle, said young people are interested in and excited about the election, but many have also expressed "cynicism and frustration" with American politics.
"We can do all these things and make it easier [for people to vote], but if we don't deal with the corrupting influence of money in politics, it will continue to turn people off. And that's the biggest thing we face -- the cynicism, that campaigns are too long and too expensive, and the negative ads turn people off," Orr said. "Those are the big factors we're fighting with."
Illinois residents can check if they are registered to vote here. To register to vote online, visit the Illinois State Board of Elections here. Voters must have a valid driver's license or state identification card and provide the last four digits of their Social Security number to vote online. The mail-in form is available in English and Spanish here. The grace period for same-day registration and voting runs from February 17 through election day, March 15.
Orr's website provides more information on how suburban Cook County residents can register to vote with the election just over one month away.