In a recent paper, the Democratic voter-targeting firm Catalist projected that approximately 156 million people could vote in 2020–an enormous increase from the 139 million who cast ballots in 2016. Likewise, Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently forecast that the 2020 contest could produce a massive turnout that is also unprecedentedly diverse.
This creates exciting opportunities to impact the electorate–but only if people turn out to vote, are able to cast a vote, and are equipped to cast informed votes. In 2016, voting rates were the lowest in 20 years; only about 55% of voting age citizens casting ballots, and those who voted were disproportionately white and older (only 36% of 18 and 19 year olds voted, while over 70% of people over 70 voted.) If “did not vote” had been a candidate in 2016, it would have handily beaten Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and almost the two combined.
Hence the focus of this year’s Civic Forum on Voting Rights and Voter Engagement. The 2018 elections saw a significant uptick in voters across the board, and especially amongst the youngest voting demographic, with 28.2% of voters aged 18-29 turning out for the midterms nationally–more than doubling the 13% (!) who voted in the 2014 midterms. Yet this is still significantly lower than voter turnout by older populations–nationally, 64% of citizens ages 54-72 cast a ballot. Further, the uptick was not evenly distributed. While New York had the highest voter turnout in 2018 that it’s had since 1994, with 49% of active voters casting ballots, youth turnout in New York had the second lowest increase of any of the 50 states, increasing by only 7.9 percentage points and barely eking out Kentucky as the very last state.
Why is this and what will it take to increase youth voting rates, in New York and nationally? We were fortunate to have Brianna Cea, co-founder of Generation Vote and a Research and Program Associate in the Democracy program of the Brennan Center for Justice, as our keynote speaker on Oct 27, 2019 guiding us in conversation about these issues and more.
We opened up the session with Fellows’ discussions of what they knew and didn’t know about the NYC election the following week–and why it matters–with particular attention to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and discussion of what it means, the pros and cons, and what difference it could make, locally and nationally. AND we engaged in heated conversation about current events including impeachment, the Democratic Primaries, the riots in Hong Kong, Syria and troop withdrawal, and ICE and immigrant detentions.
Then onto Brianna, who provided a great foundation about the issues, and introduced a platform of seven voting reform ideas for Fellows to consider for a Youth Voting Rights platform to be presented at the first ever Youth Voting Rights and Engagement Summit in Albany Nov 8-9.
Our Fellows split up into Deliberation Groups, talking through each of the seven reforms, their pros and cons, and what they think would make the biggest impact on (youth) voter engagement:
- Lower the voting age to 17
- Mandatory on-campus poll sites
- Youth representation in state government
- Lower the age requirement for poll workers to 16
- Automatic Voter Registration
- Restore the right to vote for people on parole
- Open primaries
Each group honed in on their top three choices, and then their top choice to present to the whole group. Interestingly, almost all of the groups chose differently–that’s democracy!
After hearing all of the presentations, our Fellows each individually got to vote for their top platform–using ranked choice voting of course! The results are available here, with restoration of voting rights for people on parole topping the list, followed by a tie between Automatic Voter Registration and Open Primaries.
It was an exhilarating day that left us all hopeful about the potential to really grow the electorate. And we’re excited that Lucy, Marc, Rhea, and Taylor will be representing Next Gen Politics–and their generation–at the statewide Summit on Nov 8-9.