Democrats’ efforts to register more young people to vote is critical to democracy – Chicago Tribune
On Nov. 9, the day after the midterm elections, Americans will wake up to one of two realities. One may well be the beginning of the end of functioning government and fundamental constitutional rights. The other could result in continued progress on goals such as stronger background checks, lower prices for prescription medication and relief for student loan debts. Either one is possible — and depends on what Democrats do leading up to Election Day.
There are about five months before the midterms, and anyone who has worked on a political campaign understands that time frame is an eternity. Right now, primary elections are deciding who will be on the ballot in November; campaigns are intensifying outreach efforts, and political ads are filling TV screens and airways. There is much in flux; candidates who appear to be front-runners may not be months from now.
Democrats in particular should not take anything for granted. In addition to changing their approach to messaging and passing legislation that benefits working families, Democrats should invest in a vigorous operation to register and educate as many young voters as possible. While not a guarantee for victory in November, it could be one of the best strategies to ensure that democracy survives.
Registering more voters should be a top priority for Democrats — especially given what Republicans are doing. Consider Pennsylvania, a state that could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in 2022. According to a Reuters analysis of voter registration rates across the country, in Pennsylvania, Republicans are “registering formerly Democratic voters at four times the rate that Democrats are making the reverse conversion.” That number is more than double the rate than that of 2018.
It’s not only Pennsylvania. Republicans in states such as North Carolina, Florida and Nevada are also out-registering Democrats by significant margins. The purpose of registering more voters is not getting every one of them to turn out. Instead, it is to get merely some of the newly registered voters to turn out. This increases votes along the margin — which, in turn, brings Republicans one step closer to victory.
But just because Republicans are intensifying their registration efforts doesn’t mean Democrats can’t. In fact, Democrats must — and there is no better way to do so than by targeting my peers and me and registering us to vote.
Historically, turnout among voters ages 18 to 24 has trailed that of older demographics. This pattern is further magnified in midterm and down-ballot races. For instance, in 2018, the voting gap between the youngest and oldest age demographic was more than 40%. In 2020, that number shrunk to about 26%.
But young people are not entirely to blame for not voting. Many young people are undergoing major life transitions — starting or graduating from college — and do not have enough time and information to register and to vote. And for young people who attempt to register to vote, barriers from varying identification requirements to complex state election procedures and deadlines make the process more difficult.
Democrats need to understand our reality and meet us where we are. Look no further than Georgia to see the benefits of investing in voter registration efforts. In a state that, for decades, has been predominantly conservative, Democratic organizers have registered more than 1 million Georgians since 2016 — ultimately helping Joe Biden and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win the presidency and U.S. Senate seats, respectively, in 2020. In other words, Democrats in Georgia recognized that registering people to vote is one of the most effective ways to increase turnout, and it carried them to victory.
Democrats should host voter registration drives where young people congregate, including college campuses, events such as concerts and even on social media platforms. The more Democrats can reduce the barriers facing young people in the voter registration process, the more likely we are to not only register but also to vote and be active participants in democracy.
Fully mobilizing young people will require more than just registering voters. It will also take Democrats spending time to educate my peers about who is running for office and why their candidates are better than the Republican alternative for our lives. Given that an increasing number of young people no longer believe politics can meet the challenges facing us, Democrats need to convey what their candidates stand for and why voting for them would make our lives better.
Winning in November is not going to be easy. But with more than 30 million voting-eligible young people, Democrats have a real opportunity to get more of my peers to the ballot box. It starts by getting as many of us registered as possible and demonstrating why Democrats are better for our interests than Republicans. Time is ticking. But remember, there’s still time.
Victor Shi is a sophomore at the University of California at Los Angeles. He was elected as the youngest delegate for Joe Biden in 2020. He co-hosts the “iGen Politics” podcast.
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