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NextGen Michigan mobilized youth vote in 2020 election

November 17, 2020
<p>NextGen Michigan logo.</p>

NextGen Michigan logo.

By registering 13,340 of Michigan’s young voters aged 18-34 — NextGen Michigan, a group dedicated to getting young people to vote, mobilized the youth vote in the 2020 election.

The organization registered nearly 11% of the total number of young voters registered by all NextGen organizations from battleground states, leading to key victories that may have helped secure President-elect Joe Biden’s wins in those states, according to a press release from the organization

“Our word for today is unprecedented,” NextGen Michigan Press Secretary Lateshia Parker said in an email. “This year has been unprecedented for us all, but the turnout of young voters has been unprecedented to the state and country. The youth will not be ignored, nor will they silently stand by and allow people to make decisions for their future without making their voices heard.”

More than 570,000 young voters in Michigan requested an absentee ballot for the November election, a 324% increase over the number of absent voter ballots cast in the prior presidential election, according to NextGen Michigan State Director Jay Williamson.

Additionally, the number of absentee ballots requested for the 2020 general election was more than four times greater than the number of absentee ballots returned in 2016.

“This proves that the idea that young people don’t care about voting is a myth; they’ve always cared, but their voices have been purposefully and systematically suppressed,” Williamson said in a press release. "No reason absentee voting and same-day voter registration have uplifted the voices of thousands of Michigan’s young voters and resulted in storming the ballot box. If anyone can turn the tide this year in Michigan, it’s young people."

According to a press release from NextGen Michigan, over 1,100 volunteers collected 33,482 pledges to vote. 

The parent organization funneled over $59 million into young voter mobilization, with NextGen Michigan spending nearly $5.5 million. 

Out of the organization’s 11 initially targeted battleground states, eight found the majority of their voters electing Biden to the White House. Of these eight states, four — including Michigan — turned from red to blue this election.

According to Deputy Organizing Director Arva Hassonjee, the mobilization of the youth vote in these key states played an integral role in the Biden-Harris victory. 

“In 2016, we saw that the blue wall fell, and I think it's really incredible that so many organizations this year were able to really get out the youth vote and focus on college students and speak to them in a respectable manner rather than just telling them to go vote without talking to them or engaging them,” Hassonjee said. “So, I think when you look at why Democrats were elected this year, I think paying attention to the youth vote is critical.” 

To encourage young people to get out and vote, NextGen Michigan volunteers made over 795,316 phone calls and sent over 2,520,000 text messages prior to the election. Additionally, they reached over 775,000 young voters with digital ads.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic halting planned in-person initiatives, the many college-aged NextGen volunteers were able to creatively expand the ways in which the organization reached young voters through the digital sphere. 

“Given COVID, we weren’t able to do our normal campus operations, which would have consisted of tabling and clipboarding,” Hassonjee said. “So, we really had to have our organizers and our campus interns be as innovative as possible in the digital space.” 

In addition to phone banking and text messaging, Hassonjee said volunteers did “class raps” in which they coordinated with professors to deliver a pitch to students to get them to vote. 

Additionally, NextGen America forayed into the use of social media and digital games like Animal Crossing to reach students and encourage them to vote, according to a statement from NextGen America Executive Director Ben Wessel.

Since the conclusion of the election, Hassonjee said NextGen Michigan is focused on thanking the volunteers that helped to get out the vote.

After a truly unprecedented year, Parker said she hopes young voters use their vote to protest against the officials in power now. 

“This year, we’ve seen unprecedented racial uprising and social unrest, and we’ve encouraged voters to translate their emotions into action,” Parker said in a press release. “Voting is one of the most powerful forms of protest young people have available to them, and kicking the officials who allow this mess out of office is one way we can start to win back our power.”

This article is part of our Election Aftermath print issue. Read the full issue here.

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