The Intersectionality of Voting: Activating the youth voting population

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The 2020 presidential election witnessed one of the highest voter turnout rates of any election in United States history. The most recent data from the United States Elections Project reports that 66.6% of Americans voted, totaling over 160 million individuals. In past elections, the United States has trailed behind most developed countries in voter turnout, however, there have been many voter registration drives taking place in recent years to get people excited about voting and ensure that they cast their ballot.  

One of the biggest increases in voter turnout has been seen among young voters nationwide. According to data collected by the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout among 18 to 29 years olds went from 20% in 2014 to 26% in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group. This sizable increase in voter turnout rates among young voters ended up being a deciding factor in many important midterm elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives.  

Entering the 2020 election cycle, the youth voting population was once again identified as a key demographic. At UConn, this meant an increase in voter registration efforts campus wide as students and staff prepared to cast their ballots via mail or on Election Day. Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, UConn students were determined to show up in force and utilize their platform to encourage others to use their right to vote. 

UConnPIRG’s New Voters Project works to activate youth voters who comprise the largest voting bloc in the country. The initiative involves class presentations, educational events and online outreach to ensure that every student utilizes their right to vote and makes their voice heard on both local and national political stages.

“This past semester has been difficult, and a lot of our usual tactics have had to change due to being virtual, but I think the work we did was amazing, and I’m proud to say that we were a part of the movement that resulted in the largest youth voter turnout ever.” Colleen Keller, a fifth-semester history major, said. 

Keller serves as the Chapter Chair for UConnPIRG and has been involved in many campaigns with the organization. This year, many voters were opting to use mail-in voting or early voting methods due to COVID-19 concerns, which created the need to have additional educational opportunities so that students were aware of how to properly submit a mail-in ballot. 

“This year we focused on making the New Voters Project more educational so that students who were registered to vote knew how, where and when to do so,” Keller said. 

Keller and members of the New Voters Project, led by Campaign Coordinator Cheyenne Tavares, also focused their efforts on providing information on voting on campus, when the voter registration deadline was and why voting is important. 

The New Voters Project is the largest youth mobilization effort in Connecticut and has even garnered recognition from the Secretary of State’s Office for their continued work to help register youth voters. The campaign has had great success in the past and, in the 2016 and 2018 election cycles alone, they helped over 5,000 students register to vote. 

One of the most poorly represented voting blocs within the country are homeless voters, which is why the New Voters Project made it their mission to also focus on providing homeless individuals on and around campus information about voting and how to register. Keller said that UConnPIRG wanted to include them in the conversation and ensure that the campaign’s efforts were inclusive of all voters. 

“Within the systems that exist, the action of voting is one of the most powerful non-violent acts that we as citizens can take.”

“One thing that I was especially proud of this semester was the work that was done to provide voting information to homeless individuals around campus,” Keller said. “Our Hunger and Homelessness campaign teamed up with NVP to put together an informative pamphlet on how to register and how to vote, which we were able to distribute at the No Freeze Shelter in Windham.”

The work that was done through this campaign allowed homeless voters to become involved in the democratic process within our country and cast a ballot. The New Voters Project is a vital aspect of the UConn community and has allowed thousands of students and individuals to become an active member in our democracy.

“Our work on the NVP campaign is incredibly important to us as an organization because right now, voting is one of the major ways that things can change in our society,” Keller said. “Within the systems that exist, the action of voting is one of the most powerful non-violent acts that we as citizens can take.”

One of the largest organizations on campus is the Panhellenic Council. It has nine member organizations with over 1,000 women. As such a large group on campus, the Panhellenic community teamed up with PIRG’s New Voters Project and made it their goal to increase voter registration and get chapter members excited to vote. 

Annika Redgate, a seventh-semester political science major, served as the Panhellenic Representative for the UConn Vote Coalition through the New Voters Project. She spearheaded many important voter registration initiatives like giving presentations on why voting is important and Instagram takeovers where she provided detailed information on various voting procedures and what to expect when you go to the polls.

“Voting is so important as it is one of the only opportunities that regular citizens have to influence the government and have a say in who is leading the country, what policies are being created, making big decisions and overall representing the citizens,” Redgate said. 

Following the election, Redgate shared a survey with all chapter presidents in order to gather preliminary data about the effectiveness of the initiative. Out of the 226 responses, 99.6% were registered to vote, 65.9% voted by absentee ballots and 31% voted in person on Election Day. These statistics show that the initiative was successful in getting people registered to vote as well as actually casting a ballot. 

“I wanted to be involved as the representation for panhellenic in PIRGs new voter project as they advocate for students to go out and vote in every election,” Redgate said. “I wanted to do my part to help register and get out the vote, especially with college women like myself.” 

Voting is one of the most important constitutional rights, yet so many Americans take this privilege for granted. A few weeks have passed since the 2020 presidential election took place, during which we were able to witness one of the highest turnout rates of any past United States presidential election. Americans are placing a higher emphasis on casting their ballot and having their voice heard, a vital aspect to allowing all voices to have a say in government. 

Voting is the foundation of any democracy and the work that UConnPIRG and other organizations at UConn are doing is allowing power to be restored to voters and creating fair representation within government at the local, state and national levels. 

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