He would have turned 18 on Saturday, March 24, but Nicholas Dworet was gunned down inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He wasn’t in Washington, D.C., to hear the crowd of mostly teens at the March for Our Lives sing Happy Birthday. And he won’t be around in November to cast a vote in what would have been his first election.

But all of Nick’s classmates will, and they have made it clear that their eyes are fixed on the voting booths in every state in the nation. Parkland, Florida survivor Sam Fuentes — still bearing the scars of the bullet fragments from the shooting — led the singing for her friend and ended her speech by saying, “Let’s have our lawmakers reflect our views.”

Throughout the rally, her words and the ones of her fellow speakers alternated with the passionate chants from the standing throng, “Vote them out! Vote them out!”

I couldn’t be happier that the Parkland students have made voting a key message of their movement. I’ve spent untold hours speaking to young people about the importance of voting only to have some insist that their one vote would not make a difference. So many young voters were turned off by the divisiveness of the 2016 campaign that many of them didn’t bother to go to the polls.

However, research by Circle, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, suggests that the 24 million young people who did vote made a difference. Its study found that youth votes narrowed the gap in Michigan, Nevada and New Hampshire — races that otherwise might have been a runaway victory for the candidates, an impact that was notable despite the final outcome. Circle’s director, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, explained, “In 2016, young voters … influenced the outcome, although a majority of them ended up on the losing side of the presidential race.” 

So, if they almost got wins then, can they tip the scales now? A new study commissioned by Circle says yes. In fact, the research center reports young people ages 18-29 could have a “disproportionately high impact on election outcomes this year.” Circle’s study pinpoints states like Minnesota, where several contests are on the line, and Colorado, where the youth vote is traditionally strong. More importantly, according to their data, the impact of young voters could be significant in both senate and governor’s races from coast to coast — Illinois, California, North Dakota, Arizona, Maine and Alaska. I’m thrilled at the possibility of that voting power and impressed by the laser focus of the young people whose protest is still just months old.

The nonpartisan voting organization Headcount reported pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds at the March for Our Lives as well as 18-year-olds — nearly 5,000 all told. In what may be the ultimate civics lesson, the young protestors see their voting campaign as the next step in their #Never Again movement.  

“Vote for us, vote for our future, for our lives,” Stoneman Douglas’ David Hogg urged the participants at the march. And from classmate Cameron Kasky, a warning, ”Politicians, ... stand for us or beware: The voters are coming.”

To paraphrase author Alice Walker, they are the ones I’ve been waiting for.