The year of the young voter
July 26, 2016
This election year has often been defined by the voice of the millennial generation. They are given credit for rise of Bernie Sanders, the focus on social issues, and the tension during the first days of the Democratic National Convention.
However, youth voters are also the people least likely to cast a vote in an election. The Pew Research Center defines young voters as those between the ages of 18 and 35, and in the last presidential election they had the lowest voter turnout of any age group.
Two groups in Utah are looking to change that statistic come November. The Young Democrats of Utah and Utah Young Republicans both share the goal of increasing youth awareness and activity in politics.
Christopher Cooke, the director of communications for Utah's Chapter of Young Democrats, said youth voters have the most to lose or gain in the upcoming elections.
“There is an old saying that if you aren’t at the table you are on the menu so we encourage young voters to get involved early so they are not part of the chopping block.”
--Christopher Cooke, Young Democrats of Utah
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"The future is theirs and the future could either be a really bad one or a really good one," he said. "There is an old saying that if you aren't at the table you are on the menu so we encourage young voters to get involved early so they are not part of the chopping block."
Communications Director for the Utah Young Republicans Nic Dunn said millennials are the largest voting bloc and could potentially have the biggest influence on the election.
"Millennials have the capacity to be influential in elections, up and down the ticket and they can come out in force," he said. "Sometimes I think a lot of millennials don't quite realize that, as a group, there would be a lot of influence there. Any time we have an increased diversity and perspective involved in the electoral process, we get a better end product."
Summit County millennials can join the conversation on either side of the aisle in many ways. Both of the Utah youth political groups are based in Salt Lake City and put on various events during the year to get people involved.
The Salt Lake County chapter of the Utah Young Republicans hosts a monthly meeting where right-leaning youth talk politics and meet with party leaders.
The next meeting will be Aug. 4 in Murray and Dunn said any young people, even those who aren't sure of their political leaning should consider coming.
"We want those conservative viewpoints involved in the Utah Young Republicans and the conservative movement here in Utah," he said. "Our goal is to grab anyone might lean right and help them understand the principles of conservatism, the aspects of the Utah Young Republicans and the party overall."
The young Democrats also have events coming up, Aug. 13 the group is putting on a Pokémon Go pub crawl starting at the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City for youth to come out and have fun while learning about the liberal movement.
"A few years ago and even today you can hear people say, 'oh I don't want to let people know I'm a Democrat,' I don't want to come out as a Democrat it will impact the rest of my life," Cooke said. "That is why we are doing this, to let people know 'hey it's OK to show your blue'."
As young people head to the polls this fall, both groups have key issues they believe young people should know about. Cooke highlighted education, economic and environmental issues as critical for young Democrats.
"If you have been in Salt Lake City in the winter there is a horrible fog that coats the entire county and it's one of the worst environmental disasters in our state," he said. "It's rated very dangerous by the EPA and it's one of the things that we want to talk about … especially because in Utah one of our tourist attractions is being in the outdoors."
On the Republican side, Dunn said youth voters should remember to look at local elections because they could be more critical than national elections.
"There are many elected officials who are up for re-election," Dunn said. "The presidential race is one election out of many. There is a lot of capacity for a legislative official to make an impact in your life the more local they are to you and that applies to the state legislature, county councils and city councils.
Those kind of positions have a large impact on our daily lives and for millennials to understand that spread of impact is about to be decided this fall."
Both organizations agree the most important step youth can take in an election year is voting. Cooke said young voters can often be intimidated by voting, but should not be afraid to ask questions.
"A lot of individuals choose not to vote because they feel they feel like they are ill informed about the topic, but we want to tell young people if you are concerned about what is going on or if you don't understand something, speak up to someone," he said. "It never hurts to ask. You don't look like an idiot you actually look smarter because no one has all the answers."
Summit County is one of 20 Utah counties that use a vote-by-mail system to make voting easier for people who work during daytime poll hours. Young voters can register online and have their ballot sent to their house.
Though coming from opposite sides of the aisle both Dunn and Cooke emphasized the importance of young voters getting informed and staying involved in the political process, even after high profile election years.
"If we all get involved now and continue to move forward with the movement we can make the conservative movement the vehicle for positive change that millennials want it to be," Dunn said. "Nothing will improve in Republican politics, or in politics at all if we sit by and complain instead of getting involved and making a difference in it."
More information about the Utah Young Republicans can be found at https://www.facebook.com/youngdemsofutah/?fref=ts while information about the Young Democrats of Utah can be found at https://www.facebook.com/youngdemsofutah/?fref=ts. Online voter registration for people 18 and older can be found at https://secure.utah.gov/voterreg/index.html.
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