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Panelists: America needs youth voters before the election

Screenshot from information presented by Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the panel discussion. (Dana Kim/YJI)

Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. – Advocates for the youth vote discussed what motivates – or turns away – the youngest part of the electorate as the 2024 election approaches.

Non-profit and independent organizations as well as student voting activists joined U.S. Rep Jaime Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, for an online panel discussion this week. Partners 4 Democracy, an informal working group that works to support liberal and progressive candidates, hosted the event.

“Young people can or will make the critical difference,” said Raskin.

Raskin, the founder of Democracy Summer, created that program in order to help his younger relatives become involved in his 2006 campaign for Congress.

Now, Democracy Summer has “more than 1,000 young people across the 45 states,” he said. The program aims to teach the students that “nothing is impossible, and nothing is inevitable.” When discussing the youth ballot, Raskin focused on the importance of getting younger voters to the polls in the 2024 election. 

“We need the young generation,” Raskin said. 

Raskin noted youth efforts to push the Biden administration’s positions on issues such as the war in Gaza.

The youth, he explained, are “beyond racism,” and “understand things in a profound way.”

But Raskin said young voters are needed “right now” – before the election. 

Alberto Medina, a leader of the non-partisan, independent Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at Tufts University, agreed.

“Young people need support in helping them feel qualified [to vote],” Medina said. 

But student panelists expressed unease about the messaging to youth around voting. 

Saffarino Dour, a student panelist, described the uneasiness many students felt around the election. Dour said that many youth questioned the power of their voice. 

“The stakes are a lot higher than you believe,” Dour said. 

Julia Lewis, another panelist representing students at American University, said that the atmosphere around students was less hopeful. 

In order for youth to feel more motivated to vote, Lewis said, they must focus on what politicians stand for, even if they do not feel obliged to vote.

Still, Lewis expressed personal doubts. 

“It’s hard for me to feel inspired or hopeful about the election,” Lewis admitted. 

Elizabeth Brubaker, a student panelist attending Emory University, noted the disenfranchisement many young voters face. 

“We’re devaluing this emphasis on youth,” Brubaker said. 

To encourage youth to vote, Brubaker said, organizers should try to change approaches based on the individual. 

Still, panelists expressed hope in future solutions. 

Zed Shapiro is the founder of TurnUp, a non-profit organization and mobile app that helps young people register and vote.

“The vast majority of young people are never asked to register [to vote],” Shapiro said, adding that no one is showing them how to do it.

Dana Kim is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.


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