Young Voters’ Impact

By Lance Chilton

I am not a young voter. Even my children don’t qualify as young voters, but my grandchildren do. Of course I don’t know how they voted, but they seem to be on the right (read: left) side of the fence.

My grandchildren matter greatly to me but little to the overall political scene, especially since all of them vote in heavily Democratic states where I assume they vote with the [well-informed] crowd. But the roughly 4 million Americans who come of age to vote every year matter greatly, both in the short term, and when we consider what this country’s electorate will mean in coming decades.

Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) estimates that over the past two years, 2020-2022, 4.5 million new white voters and 3.8 million new voters of color became eligible to vote. (https://circle.tufts.edu/2022-election-center). Voter participation in the group 18 to 29 years of age was lower than it had been in 2020, as it was for all age groups. But it was higher than in 2018 and other previous mid-term elections in the country as a whole.

Most encouraging in CIRCLE research were exit polls that indicated that young voters overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, some 63% to 37% for that other party. It was speculated that the Democratic candidates did a better job emphasizing matters of importance to young voters: reproductive rights including abortion, climate change, gun violence and racial justice.

The CIRCLE analysis of results in the December Georgia Senate runoff also indicates the important role of young voters in that election. Raphael Warnock was better able to mobilize young voters interested in these issues than was Herschel Walker, despite the latter’s celebrity sport-star status.

Although some experts (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/12/us/young-voter-turnout-election-democrats.html) dispute the importance of the youth vote in making the outcome in the country’s November election more favorable to Democrats than expected, there’s no denying the importance of any group that votes two-thirds Democratic and which will be voting for many years to come. And nationally, that number was up 6 percent from 2018.

According to CIRCLE research, the number of young people 18 to 19 years old registering to vote in New Mexico was marginally lower (five percent below the number in 2018) before the 2022 elections, while in the country as a whole, young voter registration Despite that, Democrats swept the state-wide offices up for election and maintained their 45 to 25 margin in the state house of representatives. What could we have done had we had a greater turnout among our youth?

We can be hopeful that these trends toward greater involvement of our youngest voters will continue. At the polling places where I have worked, we stop everything and cheer when a first-time voter checks to cast her or his ballot. But even better, we can work with youth to be sure they know the importance of their votes. We can make sure they know about the remarkably small margins that sometimes decide elections. For example, Democrat Charlotte Little won her post as state representative in District 68 by 36 votes out of over 11,000 cast. That result alone both notes the importance of every vote, and when confirmed virtually unchanged by a mandatory recount, indicates the accuracy and reliability of our vote-tabulating systems. Both should be important to young voters.

How do we encourage our coming-of-age voters to register, to vote, and to vote Democratic? It’s probably not for geezers like me, but we should support efforts to form Democratic groups at schools and colleges. Our state party has such an effort in place, organized by the state party. Sean Ward, the party’s executive director, se**@nm*********.org, is perfect for directing this effort. I have not asked him his age – he looks to be the right age to appeal to younger voters — but I know he is a New Mexico product, born here and educated here and seasoned in politics in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania before returning to his home state.