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Despite Young Voter Efforts, Turnout Is Unpredictable

Reginald Hardwick
Vote cap sitting on the table of NexGenAmerica registration table

With Tuesday, October 9, the deadline for registering to vote in the November election, we examined efforts to get more young adults to register and vote.

On Sunday, we asked a few students around the Michigan State University campus their intentions of voting in the midterm elections. 

MSU senior Erykah Ross cited history and her African-American heritage as compelling reasons to vote.

“I just felt like our ancestors fought hard to fight for their voice in this country so if I didn’t vote it would be like a slap in their face," said Ross.

However, senior Kael Fineout plans to sit the midterm election out.

“I haven’t been following what’s been going on politically," said Fineout. "I don’t know my own political opinions fully yet.”

Student Cecilia Hong plans to get registered to vote but she may not cast a ballot.

“I don’t have any concrete plans of voting," said Hong. "It’s hard to focus on that. And prioritize understanding politics and who to vote for and everything.”

That’s exactly what concerns many candidates and campaigns. 

Nationally, only 21 percent of eligible voters between under the age of 30 voted according to NonProfit VOTE – a  group that measures voter engagement.

According to the secretary of state’s office, only 41 percent of Michigan’s 7-million registered voters cast a ballot during the last Governor’s race in 2014.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR-MSU
Former Michigan gubernatorial candiate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed speaking to students at MSU.

In late September, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed spoke to MSU students at the invitation of NextGen America voter registration group. Although he lost his bid to run for governor, El-Sayed had a message for young voters and their friends.

“The work of progress, it is generational work," said Dr. El-Sayed. "It is not one election or another. I spent 18 months of my life running for office that I didn’t win. But I'm still doing this work because the work hasn't changed. It's not about one election.”

Jenna Chapman
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR-MSU
Jenna Chapman, NexGenAmerica organizer at MSU

Jenna Chapman runs the NextGen America chapter on the MSU campus. She said statewide, young voters are energized.

“In the 2014 primary, 49,000 young voters came out to vote in Michigan," said Chapman. "And just in the 2018 primary, 143,000 came out to vote. We’re excited by those numbers and will continue.”

Chapman said the economy is a big concern of young voters but not the only one.

“Some of the biggest issues that we talk to students about are the cost of college and affordable health care," said Chapman. "Young people are concerned about their financial future. On campus, some of the biggest concerns are sexual assault, gun safety, and also the environment.”

But it’s not just progressives pressing their peers to vote.

Adam Green, James Madison College Conservatives
Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR-MSU
Adam Green, president of James Madison College Conservatives at MSU

“Being a midterm election, this is a large, very important and very consequential time in our nation’s history and in our state history," said Adam Green, president of the James Madison College Conservatives at MSU. 

“Our members knocking doors with the candidates and the campaigns all across the state," said Green. "We have people running phone banks in Lansing and East Lansing trying to remind people this is very a big election year, people need to get out and vote.”

Unlike the national discourse that’s become quite polarized, Green says political discussions at MSU have generally been civil.

“When you’re put in an educational setting to promote civil discourse I think people are more often encouraged to speak their mind, especially the Conservatives on campus," said Green. "I think it’s been positive having an outlet where they can debate their views with the liberal side of these issues.”

Young people in the capital region may have a lot to say now... but it remains to be seen if they’ll take those opinions to the voting precincts in November. 

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