by Reneé Díaz
This week out on Red Square at the University of Washington (UW), college students are approaching their peers with clipboards in hand, asking if they have registered to vote for the upcoming election.
And young people are teaming up to get the vote out. Various organizations are rallying together on Red Square and outside campus buildings and asking strangers if they are registered to vote, and their members are phone-banking and going into classrooms to encourage each other to fill out their ballots.
Bob Goldsmith, a freshman registering people to vote at Red Square, said, “I vote because I want to see legislation passed that works to make health care and college more affordable for young people like me. If our generation doesn’t act, no one will; this is our time, and we need to take advantage of it.”
Gina Chaleunphonh, another young voter in King County, said, “I want to have a say in who is representing me in this election. I think it is important because we need accurate representation to represent those who historically have no voice in our country. I think I do have an impact. While it may be small, it matters because we can push people we know to vote as well.”
Chalenphonh is one of many young voters registered for this upcoming election. When new students moved to campus in September, 10,000 new voter pamphlets were sent out in their “Welcome to UW” packets. This is a part of UW’s 2022 Action Democratic Engagement Action Plan. Students this week are walking into classrooms reminding each other of important dates for this election season. On Oct. 19, ballots were mailed out for the general election. Currently, the state of Washington has over 426,000 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24. With general election day approaching, young people are not waiting to get out the vote.
“I have been tabling in Red Square at the University of Washington, asking students if they have registered to vote as they walk to their next class. I am very excited. We have a lot of new volunteers and people signing up to vote,” said Matteah Davis, a student and the new voter’s project campaigner for WashPIRG, a nonpartisan student public interest research group at the UW.
The University of Washington has one of the highest voter-participation rates in the country, and various organizations are pushing to maintain them this election season. Democracy Dawgs is a coalition of students, faculty, and community members who work to build solid democratic engagement on campus. The coalition has partnered with other organizations, such as UW Athletics, WashPIRG, Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW), and The Washington Bus.
The Washington Bus is a statewide movement-building organization that increases political access and participation for young people across Washington State. The Bus is also part of the Voter Education Fund (VEF), a government philanthropic community partnership led by King County Elections that works to fight voter suppression and increase participation among historically excluded communities.
Through these organizations, young people are taking on leadership roles and creating coalitions to encourage civic participation among their peers. Jazmine Smith, political manager for The Washington Bus, said, “My boss and I are the oldest, so everyone’s under 30, specifically under 28. We are all young people engaged in this work, some fresh out of college. We are an organization of young folks by young folks.”
The Washington Bus works closely with high schools and colleges in the King County area, offering them internships where they can plan phone-banking and text-banking events. Not only do they focus on youth advocacy, but they also help shape the next generations of young leaders. The Bus aims to support leadership from underrepresented communities, Communities of Color, young women, young LGBTQ people, and the young working class.
These voting coalitions, such as The Washington Bus, Democracy Dawgs, and WashPIRG, go to spaces where young people can be found, such as festivals, college campuses, and high school classrooms. They focus on voter education, equipping youth with the tools they need to understand elections, important dates, and what is at stake. This summer, The Bus went to the Capitol Hill Block Party, a three-day festival showcasing national and local artists. At the event, The Bus set up a table encouraging people to get involved in Washington politics in the lead-up to election season. And on National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 20, 2022, The Washington Bus canvassed across King County. Its staff and interns reached many Washingtonians at Lincoln High School, Green River College, downtown Seattle, Fiestas Patrias, the UW, and the Bremerton area. Volunteers from The Washington Bus also shared invitations to upcoming events with their organization.
Even though, historically, voting numbers have been low among young folks, with the collective work of Democracy Dawgs, WashPIRG, and The Washington Bus, student voting statistics at the UW have risen. Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) showed 76.7% of eligible UW students voted in 2022, a 9% increase compared with 2016.
Bob Goldsmith, a coalition member from WashPIRG, said, “Young people are the least likely demographic to turn out and vote, which is discouraging. But to sit idly by is not a solution for me. I’m trying to empower young voters, so we can turn to our legislators and demand that they listen to us too. If we encourage enough people to vote, the eyes will be on us, and we’ll be able to demand that our government work for us.”
To encourage their peers to vote, young voters are trying to make elections as easy to understand as possible, sharing voting resources on social media, and showing others how to fix return ballots so they can count toward the election. At the UW Student Engagement Center, people can register on election day, vote in person, and receive a new ballot until the end of the election. By this 2022 midterm election cycle, the UW hopes to increase the registration and voting rates by 10%, aiming to achieve an 87.7% registration rate and a 63.1% voting rate in 2022. Voting advocacy groups, such as The Washington Bus, Democracy Dawgs, and WashPIRG, have created short-term goals for the 2022 midterm election cycle and long-term goals for 2028 for students at the UW.
“I am voting because nothing will change or get done if our voices aren’t heard. One individual vote may not seem like a huge impact, but as a collective, we have so much power to protect those in vulnerable positions and the ones we love,” said Davis.
As the number of young voters grows, so does the potential for political power. In addition to canvassing and phone-banking, youth are finding new and creative ways to get other young people to the voting polls. WashPIRG hosts concerts, and between sets, it shares voter information and answers any questions people may have about voting.
Parnian Karimi, another coalition member from WashPIRG, shared why she believes voting is important: “They want their voice to be heard and their opinions and values represented, not just at the minimal level, but at the state level. Who we vote for gets to make decisions about our lives and affects us every day, big and small. I struggle to find a reason not to vote. It is part of creating a society they want to live in.”
This article is funded in part by a Voter Education Fund grant from King County Elections and the Seattle Foundation.
Reneé Díaz is a proud Latina from Yakima, Washington, and a first-generation senior at the University of Washington studying journalism and public interest communication. You can find her on Twitter @itsreneediaz.
📸 Featured Image: Photo by vesperstock/Shutterstock.com
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