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National and Local Efforts Urge Young People to Vote

Howard University recently made headlines for its efforts to encourage students to register to vote the minute they stepped on campus. And with midterm elections right around the corner on November 6, universities, celebrity activists, youth-serving organizations, and young people themselves around the country are urging young voters to head to the polls.

Survivors of the Parkland shooting spent their summers touring the country encouraging young people to vote, while "blackish" (and now "grown-ish") star Yara Shahidi’s Eighteen x 18 initiative is bringing young people together for a #WeVoteNext summit in Los Angeles on September 29. 

"We [Gen Z] generally care about the world around us, and so we’re voting for more than just our self-interest,” said Shahidi.

Earlier this summer, former First Lady Michelle Obama launched the When We All Vote campaign which targets the “4 million young people turning 18 this year” and is hosting a week of action on September 22. National Voter Registration Day is September 25.

 Meanwhile, DoSomething.org is offering students a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship if they run a voter registration booth at their school before September 30 and the chance to win a $3,000 scholarship if they answer a poll about their thoughts on the current state of U.S. politics. You can also take a short quiz to see if you’re ready to vote.

For those who are skeptical that these efforts will matter—youth voter turnout has historically been lowRock the Vote points to young people showing up significantly in Philadelphia, Virginia, and Alabama in 2017. Just this past July, youth voter registration went up by 41 percent in Florida, according to the Miami Herald.

And in 2016, as The Center For Information & Research On Civic Learning And Engagement found, about 50 percent of eligible young people ages 18-19 voted in the general election.

Mikva Challenge D.C., an America’s Promise Alliance member that is currently working with local D.C. high school students on voter registration, voter turnout, and examining the candidates for the D.C. City Council race, believes elected officials have a lot to gain from hearing young people’s voices.

“Young people have important expertise to share with elected leaders about issues ranging from public schools, to transportation to and from school, to access to healthy food in their neighborhoods,” said Robyn Lingo, executive director of Mikva Challenge D.C. “One way young people can have their voices heard and affect local policy is by being informed and active voters.” 

Earlier this year, YouthBuild founder Dorothy Stoneman said every organization serving young people should do two things: create a youth advisory council and make sure young people are registered to vote.

“If we’re serious about youth voice, then we have to talk about voting,” she said in a roundtable discussion on youth voice.

These efforts aren’t necessarily pushing a particular political party. Like other nonpartisan organizations focused on getting young people to vote—HeadCount, CIRCLE, and Young Voters, for example—they urge young voters to make their voices heard on issues they care about, whatever those issues may be.

“It is easy to feel hopeless. It is easy to believe you don’t have the power to make a difference. However, I believe it’s important to fight this feeling. One way that every individual can truly make a difference is by voting and voicing their opinion.” 

Sanah Jivani, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio and former America’s Promise youth trustee, said she is voting this November because she cares about mental health policy.

“In middle school, I struggled with depression and self-harm every day,” she said. “So I am voting this November because I want to ensure that other students have the services and resources they need.”

Jivani founded the Love Your Natural Self Foundation to help other young people who have gone through similar struggles, and through it she’s advocated for and researched policies that would bring more mental health services to students.

She added that voting is important because it gives young people a chance to make an impact.

“It is easy to feel hopeless. It is easy to believe you don’t have the power to make a difference,” she said. “However, I believe it’s important to fight this feeling. One way that every individual can truly make a difference is by voting and voicing their opinion.” 

For those who haven’t registered to vote yet, there are plenty of apps for that. You can find out if you’re registered—and register if you’re not—at Vote.org, share GIFs with registration deadlines by state through VoteGifs, and HelloVote even lets you register with a simple text. And don’t wait—most state deadlines to register for November’s midterms are coming up in October. 

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