Ginnie Graham: It’s taking a village to get the young ones to vote (Tulsa World)

by Ginnie Graham

Where did all the voters go?

It’s the ongoing struggle/question/debate about how to get Americans motivated to cast a ballot. Now, it’s a challenge just getting those eligible to even register.

The youngest generation is absent. For Oklahomans age 18 to 24, registration has dropped 40 percent in the past 10 years, according to a Tulsa World analysis. In some places, 98 percent of people in that age group are staying away.

While overall voter registration is up about 3 percent, the turnout on Election Day is abysmal.

Last year, with a governor and two U.S. Senate races to decide, about 41 percent of eligible Oklahoma voters showed up, and only 14.5 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds turned out.

School races really have a hard time getting attention. Yet, that’s where a lot of elected leaders get their start and where education policy is determined. The school board race in Kansas, Oklahoma, was decided by four people last year. I know the town is small, but it’s not that small. A school bond proposal in Westville was defeated after four of the six people who voted decided against it.

With a presidential election next year, the League of Women Voters for Metropolitan Tulsahas gathered 15 agencies to reverse that trend. The Voting Is Power Coalition, or VIP Coalition, is holding a kickoff session this month to brainstorm for ideas and plan for voter registration drives.

“The VIP Coalition hopes to reverse the negative voter engagement statistics that plague our area and state,” stated Mary Jane Lindaman, VIP Coalition steering committee facilitator and voter services chairwoman of Tulsa’s League of Women Voters.

“Rather than continuing to wring our hands over the weak statistics for voter engagement, we have decided to do something to make a change and hope that other community members will feel this issue is as important as we do. We hope to empower the community with the knowledge that their vote matters.”

Young minds: I turned to my cousin Nick, representing all 20-somethings, for answers. The conversation is via text messaging because — to my knowledge — he has never answered a phone call. I sent the statistics and asked why people his age are so disengaged.

“I vote! Maybe because their parents don’t vote or because they don’t follow politics,” Nick stated.

It’s true that Nick votes. His parents make sure of it, and he’s full of opinions. So, we ponder if it’s laziness, apathy, turn-off by the pundit culture or lack of ease in voting. I proposed online voting.

“That would! That’s actually a good idea,” he said. I try not to be insulted by the “actually” comment.

Then, he actually came up with something.

“It might help if you take a class freshmen year of college that informs you about political parties and things like that. So, the student can decide which party to vote for and gets them excited to vote. I know not everyone who takes it would vote, but some would.”

Of course, this would only benefit those in college and for those attending class. How about going a step further?

Make online voting attractive by creating a Buzzfeed-like quiz that tells people something at the end of it.

“Take this ballot and find out what Star Wars character you are.” “Fill in the circles to see what ‘80s song is most like you.” “By completing this form, you will find out what hobbit would marry you.”

Really, anything that has the word “you” in it might help in young voter turnout.

Real action: Unlike my silly idea, three women at the metro League of Women Voters did something useful about this serious problem. They started the VIP Coalition after reading a policy brief by the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt about how low voter turnout breaks down democracy.

They approached organizations about becoming partners and received an overwhelming response.

“While the sad voter engagement statistics are well-known and widely recognized, it seemed like most of the effort and rhetoric was about how bad the numbers are and not what could be done,” Lindaman said.

The kickoff event at 10 a.m. Aug. 22 at the Rudisill Regional Library will feature speakers and sessions on training registrars for voter-registration drives.

Breakout sessions will address creating messages to appeal to diverse populations, looking at barriers to voting and seeking reform ideas for elections. The goal is for those attending to conduct at least two voter registration drives by the end of the year and four next year.

“We will not be developing any positions or proposals at this meeting,” Lindaman said. “We want people to start thinking, and our intent is to take these ideas forward to future meetings of the coalition and any other community organizations who are interested in trying to improve voter engagement in Tulsa County.”

There is a specific approach: Improve voter registration numbers this year, then turn attention to voter turnout next year.

“I think this is different in that our hope is that we can all work together for a common goal under the Voting is Power umbrella,” Lindaman said.

It has always boggled my mind why someone wouldn’t vote. My candidates and proposals don’t always win, but at least I had a say.

And that is for all elections, from school board to president. Maybe the League’s new approach can spread the message of motivation.


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