I’m glad to introduce Jake Gellar-Goad, who is a Program Specialist and a founding member of the Wake Forest University nonpartisan voter engagement committee Deacs Decide.
I was participating in a voting rights conference a number of years back where I heard from the Mayor of Takoma Park, Maryland about how their city experimented with letting young people under 18 cast votes in local elections. And guess what? It worked!
Now sure, some of it may have been the novelty of letting young people vote, but from what I heard, the young voters were participating at higher rates of voting than most other age groups of voters. And when you think about our current system—how we wait until people turn 18 and often leave the communities they’re connected with to start college or work—the Takoma Park experiment kind of makes sense. People vote when they feel connected to the communities they are voting in. And that tells me there are two important solutions to getting young people to vote.
It isn’t news that voters between the ages of 18-29 tend to turn-out for elections in substantially smaller numbers than other age groups in the population, and this has been especially true in mid-term elections. For example, in 2014 just 21% of voters in this age group voted. Thus, it was big news when data became available that young voter turn-out in the 2018 midterms was at 31%. This was the highest turnout in the last seven midterm elections.
My particular interest in the engagement of young people in the political process leads me to ask how we explain this increase and whether there are lessons civic educators can learn from this significant increase that might be replicated in future elections. There is no better source, in my view, than CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement), for getting more detailed numbers and insight into youth voting.
Local government tends to work quietly in the background. When streets are passable, water is safe, and trash is being collected, we don’t think much about it. All that changes when our “normal” is threatened. A political battle, a big weather event, even a computer glitch can upset services we depend on. In some
cases, the effects can be more extreme. For example, the state of Illinois has no budget at the moment, in part because of a political standoff that has lasted for months.
Live somewhere long enough, and there’s a good chance you’ll need information from your local government. Because we don’t think about local government very often, we may not know how to get started. The good news is that most of the time, you have access to your local government and to elected officials. This is a key distinction between local government and the federal government; while few of us could personally take our praise or grievances to the president or lawmakers, we can have a conversation with elected officials at the local level pretty easily. How you go about it can affect your chances of getting what you want from the conversation.