"I just turned 18. I want to vote," a man said as he pulled out his drivers license and reached for one of the League of Women Voters clipboards bearing registration forms.
"I am registered at my parents' home but can I vote where I go to college?" a University of South Florida student asked the League volunteers.
The questions came fast and furious. A woman wanted to know how she and her husband could update their address. Another man said, "I just became a citizen," adding that he was excited to be part of the election process in the country he had sworn to love.
Throughout Florida on Tuesday you will be able to participate in democracy at work as we celebrate the second annual National Voter Registration Day by helping residents prepare to exercise their right to vote. It is a day that we move toward better protection for our communities, a chance for neighbors to express their views and be heard by lawmakers, more community involvement. By registering to vote you are making your voice heard in the future of Florida and our country.
Last year on National Voter Registration Day, 56,000 people signed up to vote. Already at least 11,865,838 voters have registered in Florida out of 13,346,802 eligible to vote.
Despite the success in registering new voters on National Voter Registration Day, across America the numbers tell an alarming and sad story:
• 51 percent of young people between 18 and 29 who are eligible are not registered to vote, representing 31 percent of all unregistered citizens.
• 48 percent of Latinos who are eligible are not registered, representing 12 percent of all unregistered citizens.
• 39 percent of unmarried women who are eligible are not registered, representing 28 percent of all unregistered citizens.
• 37 percent of African-Americans who are eligible are not registered, representing 12 percent of all unregistered citizens.
We need to stop and ask ourselves: "How can America have good government if citizens do not participate?" The League believes good government depends on citizen participation and the critical first step is registering to vote. Our volunteers are spending every available hour registering voters for the Nov. 4 election.
The deadline for a new Florida voter registration is Oct. 6, 29 days before the upcoming election. The 29-day deadline also applies to a person already registered to vote in Florida who wishes to change party affiliation. Although there is no deadline for making an address change within the state of Florida or within a county, you need to change your address well in advance of the election.
If you are eligible but not yet registered, we urge you to act now. The state has much at stake from quality schools to clean water to ethical government and affordable health care. Elections are often decided by small numbers of votes. Don't complain about the results after the fact. Join your fellow Floridians and make sure the future that we are headed toward is one that you support.
Now is the time to act. Make sure your hands are on the steering wheel, not folded in your lap from a lack of a vote. Florida needs you. Visit www.BeReadyToVote.org to register or check your registration is up to date.
Dr. Julie Kessel and Shirley Arcuri are presidents of the League of Women Voters, respectively, of the St. Petersburg area and of Hillsborough County. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.