Paint the state blue: Younger voters ‘crucial’ to Democrats’ success
By Kendall Trammell | The Red and Black - 10/02/2014
If the young voters are going to influence Georgia’s upcoming midterm elections, they’ll have to do more than just register to vote. They have to cast their ballots.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State, there were 565,890 persons between the ages of 18 and 24 registered to vote in 2010. Of those voters, 104,655 voted in the 2010 midterm election. showing the lowest turnout out of the other age groups, 18 percent of young registered Georgia voters participated in the election.
Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor who studies Southern politics, said this is a consistent trend in Georgia politics.
“The problem is that young voters don’t vote,” he said. “Most of them are away from home. Sure, you could get an absentee ballot, but who wants to go through all of that work?”
It’s not until most students graduate from college that they begin to understand the gravity of politics, said fellow UGA political science professor Keith Poole.
“People really start to vote when they’re out of college and have a job,” said Poole, who studies polarization in political ideologies. “Young people tend to participate less, so if they participate less, it’s a mark of the fact that they’re not as intense about the issues as older people.”
But to the Young Democrats of the University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County’s president, young voters — who are generally more democratic in ideology — are crucial to turning the state blue.
“What we’re seeing on our side is definitely that Athens and a lot of other college towns are very important to these campaigns in that we have people on the ground here,” Alex Rowell said. “It starts with what the candidates are talking about.”
Running as the gubernatorial candidate for the Democratic Party, Jason Carter is focusing on reforming Georgia’s education system, creating an economic climate that caters to the middle class and increasing transparency within the state government. Democrat Michelle Nunn, who is running for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, is gearing her campaign also on education reforms, government accountability and job growth as well as energy and conservation and veterans awareness.
But it’s not getting students to understand the candidates’ platforms that’s the challenge, Rowell said. It’s getting them to realize the importance of these two races.
“Our role on campus is letting people know that the governor and senators are hugely important,” said the senior international affairs and economics major from Valdosta. “The governor of the state has way more control as college students as far as influence than the president does.”
Millennials have a history of having a significantly higher turnout when there is a presidential election. Of the 629,970 registered voters between ages 18 and 24 in 2012, according to the Georgia Secretary of State, 50 percent of this group voted — a 32 percent increase in voter turnout from 2010. The 2012 presidential election between United States President Barack Obama and turned-former Gov. Mitt Romney attracted the spike in the number of voters casting ballots. In general, elections that include a presidential ballot see higher voter turnouts, and it shows even more among the younger voter groups.
“The whole electorate drops off in the midterms,” Rowell said. “We want to make sure the young voters don’t drop off even more than everyone else does.”
The registration numbers aren’t what politicians are finding troublesome but rather the number actually having their voices taken into account.
“It’s not just registering voters and letting them go,” Rowell said. “There’s a solid outreach effort to make sure that people go out to the polls.”
Part of that outreach involves Turbo Vote.
Turbo Vote is a digital voting platform which allows individuals to register to vote online and will also send registered voters an absentee ballot as well as send reminders about when the polls open and where voters can cast their ballots.
“Certainly it’s probably more appealing to millennials than anyone else because we’re so attached to doing everything online and not going anywhere,” said Alex Edquist, who is a member of Common Sense Action, the Millennial advocacy group that is covering the costs of the platform’s usage.
With help from student organizations, including the Roosevelt Institute @ UGA, the UGA College Republicans, the Young Democrats, the Student Government Association and the Georgia Political Review, Edquist along with other students has been tabling at the Tate Student Center Plaza to get more UGA students involved in the election process.
“College students, I don’t even know if half of college students even know how to use a mailbox anymore,” said Edquist, a junior economics major from Alpharetta. “So just the fact that people don’t have to find out where they can register and where they can get the forms, they don’t have to try to find a stamp — they don’t have to do any of that. It makes it a lot easier.”
Although it may not be the ultimate solution, Edquist said it’s better than nothing.
“Will we get 100 percent voting? No,” she said. “But hopefully it will be better than what the current rate is.”