Election 2020

As Primary Day Approaches, Will Young People Show Up In Harris County?

Youth turnout in Texas trails behind other demographics. Organizers hope that’s changing.

Students at a voter registration rally at Texas Southern University. Organizers are hoping young Texans turn out this election season.

Josna Gigi wants to be involved in elections.

But Gigi, a 21-year-old aspiring doctor and biology student at the University of Houston, said she doesn’t have the time to learn about candidates, or even to vote. In fact, she has never voted a day in her life. 

And this year is no exception: Gigi said she would not be voting in Tuesday’s primary.

“To be honest, I don’t know much about the candidates other than the basic details, so I don’t feel comfortable casting my vote while being ignorant,” Gigi said. “I want to learn more about them but I feel like I don’t have the time to.”

But organizers are working to make sure that more people like Gigi head to the polls as the election season continues.

Youth voter turnout is a hot topic in every election cycle. Voters under the age of 30 only accounted for about 14% of the vote in the 2018 midterms.

Organizations like MOVE Texas are working to increase civic engagement among Texas’ younger population, through outreach at schools, and hosting events at popular spots to meet candidates and speak about issues that matter to young people. 

“What we have to do is give young people the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Charlie Bonner of MOVE. “Young people know what they care about, we just have to help them connect that with what’s on the ballot, and with who’s on the ballot.”

MOVE also hosts events at polling stations, to help answer questions about the voting process or candidates, and relieve the anxiety that can be associated with voting for the first time.

Local officials are also stepping up to help boost turnout. In an effort to make voting easier, Harris County opened up early voting locations at various locations like the University of Houston, as well as Texas Southern University, to make getting to the polls easier for college students. 

As focus on voter registration becomes more of a priority for both parties, many groups are looking to young Latino voters as texas’ future. Evidence shows that increased Latino turnout contributed to Beto O’Rourke’s close finish against Ted Cruz.

One group, Jolt Action, has been reaching out to potential young voters through its Poder Quince program, which offers free photo booths for 15th birthday celebrations that include canvassers to register voters as they take photos.

But ultimately, hectic schedules do play a role in lack of registration and turnout, said Suzanne Prtizker, a professor at the UH Graduate School of social work.

“Coursework, jobs, family responsibilities, there’s a lot of moving back and forth in this area, driving back and forth from campus, that can make it really challenging to have time to vote,” Pritzker said. 

But Pritzker said she believed higher youth turnout could be a powerful thing.

“It’s really critical that young people have a voice in shaping the way that policies are going to look in shaping their adulthood moving forward,” she said.

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