Mobilizing Millennials, Educating to Elect

Americans will vote for the 45th President of the United States in approximately 340 days on Nov. 8, 2016. In about 310 days most states will close voter registration. For many college students, Election 2016 will be the first federal election in which they’re eligible to vote.

Organizations like iCitizen and Rock The Vote are reaching out to young voters to get them registered, educated and at the polls as the 2016 election season begins. The two organizations argued that civic engagement on the part of millennials has the power to change the nation, because the number of millennials exceeds that of any other generation.

Millennial force

Alex Schreiner, citizen engagement manager at iCitizen, said voters ages 18-29 have enough political force to change the presidential outcome.

“They found that in 2012, Mitt Romney got 37 percent of the youth vote nationwide,” Schreiner said, citing a November 2012 analysis by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). “If (Romney) had been able to get half of the youth vote (in four key states) instead of the average 37 percent, he would have won the election. So if you think about the power of that, if there had been four states where young people had been more successfully engaged by one party, then that party’s candidate wouldn’t have lost.”

Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania are the four states CIRCLE listed in its analysis. While the votes of other demographics also had a close margin, Schreiner said young voters are not without a voice.

“That’s an incredible amount of power for a demographic to wield, and I think that students are traditionally seen as apathetic or disengaged – they don’t want to be involved in the political system – and we found that that’s really not true. They’re just frustrated like a lot of other people in our society,” he said. “They just don’t in a lot of cases have the tools – don’t have access to information, don’t feel like their voice counts, and don’t know how to do something about that.”

Educating and engaging

And that’s where Schreiner’s organization comes in.

iCitizen is a free app created to educate individuals about issues and representatives at both the federal and state level. The app allows users to follow issues important to them – from the budget and crime to education and technology – and get an in-depth look at how their representatives compare in votes, sponsored bills, campaign contributions and social media.

You have to let students decide how they can engage with politics on their own terms. We call that your political DNA, where everybody has their issues that they care about, their things that they want to engage in,” Schreiner said. “By lowering the barrier to entry for a student to get involved with one issue, then the student that only cares about one thing … becomes somebody who votes and follows and keeps up with two issues, three issues, five issues.

Schreiner said students can customize the iCitizen app to provide them with updates on the issues most important to them, receiving information via news stories and mobile polls related to the issue(s) selected.

Schreiner said iCitizen brings politics to students’ fingertips – literally – so that students can formulate their own political opinions rather than assume the political “flavor” of the week.

“Politics is one of the realms where that’s the slowest to catch up to the 21st century, and so we’re really trying to bring politics to the same level that everything else in a student’s life operates on,” he said. “I’ve talked to hundreds, thousands of students over the last year and a half who in many cases are registered to vote, but say, ‘I don’t vote because I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t think I know enough about these issues or understand them well enough to vote on them.’”

But Schreiner said excuses like that are what motivates iCitizen to get political lingo in the hands of students.

“If we had 100 percent of all eligible youth in the country registered to vote, yeah that’s great, that’s a step,” Schreiner said, “but it doesn’t mean anything if we’re not also providing them with really, really easy access tools for finding out what they’re voting on.”

Rock The Vote

As iCitizen seeks to educate voters, Rock The Vote seeks to register voters.

Kiki Burger, director of marketing and events at Rock The Vote, said the non-profit, non-partisan organization began reaching young people 25 years ago via MTV . She said the organization’s goal is to get young people both to register to vote and then to actually vote.

But since young people no longer flock to MTV, Burger said Rock The Vote has moved to the newest media platforms to get young people’s attention and register them to vote. In addition to providing a digital form for voter registration and initiating a National Voter Registration Day this September backed by the White House, Rock The Vote has connected with young, eligible voters via Tumblr., HelloGiggles, Facebook, Instagram, dating websites, Snapchat filters and even T-shirts appearing on TV shows such as “West Wing,” Burger said. “

As the landscape is changing and where young people are is so spread out, we are trying to meet them where they are. Rather than trying to get them to come to us, we like to go to them,” she said. “Just make it easy for people to register to vote is our goal right now.”

Why vote?

Burger said people don’t see the importance of voting, because they don’t see the expanse of government.

“I don’t think people realize just how every single part of your day is influenced by government,” Burger said, listing roads, healthcare, safety, libraries, and more.

Everything that you interact with in your day is determined with government, so why not vote for somebody who matches your ideas of how things should be? I think we think voting is just the president, and there’s so many other local elections that you can directly feel.

Votes for several congressional seats and state governors will also be cast Nov. 8, 2016.

Burger said after notable U.S. Supreme Court decisions were announced this summer Rock The Vote reminded people just how their vote counts. She said people who believe their vote doesn’t count don’t truly understand the political chain tying their hometown to Washington, D.C.

“If you had voted in past elections you were able to pick your senator. Did you realize that your senator confirms nominations of Supreme Court justice(s)?” Burger said. “(We were) putting together the connections between how something the president does in the Supreme Court actually comes back to you participating in your state election, voting for your senator.”

And as for state elections, Llyn McCoy, director of the Greene County Board of Elections, said college students have two options. Students can request an absentee ballot from their home state for each election or they can register and vote on-site at the polls in Greene County or in their home county.

“If you come and live in a community for four years, I think you come to care about the people that live here, and in these local elections, it’s your school board candidates,” McCoy said. “We have mayors and councils and township trustees that do a lot of work and a lot of things that could affect your life while you’re here going to school, and if you choose to settle in Greene County after school, it’s certainly going to continue to affect your life.”

But McCoy said, too, that these local elections aren’t limited to Greene County. If students have stronger ties to their community at home, students can register for an absentee ballot to vote for the school board and community leadership there.

Michaela George, a freshman pre-law major and member of Cedarville’s College Republicans, said the important thing is just that people vote.

“We need our generation and our Christian generation to see what’s happening and realize that a voice in that is what’s going to make the difference,” George said. “If we sit back and let people who made this system corrupt in the first place take total control, we’re not doing what as Christians I think we should be doing and speaking up for what we believe. I don’t see how being involved in what affects the world around you can be wrong at all.”

George said that College Republicans seeks to make politics relevant for students. Tuition, the job market and what the country is funding are just some of the relevant issues, since all affect the future – the next generation – which essentially is today’s young people, George said.

“Our age is what our politicians are talking about,” she said.

And to not vote is to give up a right that was fought for not so long ago, George said.

“It’s almost disrespectful (not to vote),” she said. “We have come so far, especially women. We didn’t have this chance before, and so many people fought for it. Who are we to say my vote doesn’t matter?”

According to a June 2015 release from the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials now exceed 83 million individuals, nearly eight million more than those in the Baby Boomer generation. Rock The Vote’s Kiki Burger said the power this generation has is mind-blowing.

“If every young person turned out, they could decide the election,” Burger said. “It would be the biggest voting block in our history.”

Anna Dembowski is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She is learning to love coffee, spontaneity and Twitter. Follow her at @annabbowskers.

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