The city of Philadelphia is focusing on college campuses in order to increase young voter participation by 2020. Based on youth participation during the 2018 midterm elections when ballots cast by 18-to-34 year old voters in Philadelphia increased 111% from 2014, the Mayor’s Office of Youth Engagement and nonpartisan advocacy organization Committee of Seventy are trying to boost these levels for next year election.
The initative, called First Vote 2020 and launched last month, has been designed to educate young voters and make elections more attractive to young people.
There is every reason to be optimistic about this, because despite student voter engagement has doubled across the country, Philadelphia’s colleges still voted at a higher rate than their peers nationwide.
Jude Husein, a senior at La Salle University and who serves at the Office of Youth Engagement claims that this enthusiasm for political participation is due to the demand of many young people for solutions to such urgent problems as gun violence and work force training.
“The hype is simply we want someone who’s relatable. We want someone that understands the need. We want a young person’s voice to matter,” she said. “When we use it, we see changes and we’ve seen changes in the city of Philadelphia. We have young people going out and standing up for what they want. We have young people going out and testifying on a number of different issues, and that’s what we need to see.”
Student voting rates last year grew more than 20% at La Salle, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
However, the voters growth at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) is especially noteworthy because of all the Philadelphia colleges surveyed by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, CCP was the only one where the percentage of students who voted increased despite having fewer students registered to vote overall.
David Thomas, vice president of strategic initiatives at CCP, explains these results for the full time voter outreach work.
“You can imagine if a student is coming in the evening, it’s because they can’t come in the morning, so we didn’t want to exclude those students,” Thomas said.
According to Jeanette Bavwidinsi, who heads the Office of Youth Engagement the best strategy to motivate young voters is by building a strong relationship between the big political issues and their personal lives.
“You’re talking about these issues like climate change and all these things that are part of the national conversation, and then you get [comments] like, ‘I don’t care about that. My dad has been in jail my entire young life,’” she said. “It puts the brakes on whatever you’re talking about. Oftentimes when I engage with young people who are typically left out of these conversations, these are the things they bring up.”
In her opinion, what should be done is to connect personal interests to an elected official or office. She often points out that just one-fifth of registered Philadelphia voters cast a ballot in the district attorney’s race in 2017.
“So you talk about issues and we talk about comparing it to voting. Did you come out and vote for the District Attorney? This person’s job directly correlates and influences the thing you care about, but you didn’t show up to vote,” she said.