Over 1,000 students took a pause in their day to register to vote at the College of William and Mary this election cycle. This was largely due to the work of NextGen America, a progressive organization that tabled around campus.
NextGen Virginia Communications Fellow Robert Ostrom discussed the long-term goals of NextGen and the importance of its relationship with its younger members and volunteers.
“One of the biggest things that NextGen is doing is building up a big volunteer base and teaching them the skills of organizing, so after this, we want to have an exponential increase in the amount [of] people who know how to organize, who know how to knock doors, and register people to vote, so they can do it themselves, they can start training other people, because we really want this kind of younger generation, this youth demographic to be more politically active,” Ostrom said. “So that’s kind of our overarching long-term goal.”
As the voter registration deadline in Virginia passed Oct. 15, all efforts have been turned to ensuring a good voter turnout in the midterms, according to NextGen Virginia Campus Organizer Olivia Thomas.
In an email, Ostrom said that NextGen Virginia helped 1,114 students at the College register during this election cycle. According to Ostrom, the organization has also helped over 25,000 people aged 18-29 register to vote in Virginia thanks to the work of over 800 active volunteers.
According to an article from TargetSmart, Virginian voter registration in the 18-29 age bracket has increased 3.41 percent, and voter turnout in Virginia increased from 0.5 to 3.6 percent between the 2017 and 2018 primaries.
Thomas talked about the importance of students having a plan for how and when they will physically get to the polls and vote on election day.
“We’re really excited; we have a bunch of get-out-the-vote type events planned for the coming weeks between now and the election,” Thomas said. “So, basically, we’ll be doing a lot of canvassing in the Williamsburg community, which again is sort of an exciting way to reach people who live off campus and still encourage them to vote.”
For NextGen, efforts to increase voter registration and turnout among the youth isn’t just about tabling itself but who is doing it.
NextGen Virginia Fellow Annaliese Estes ’21 talked about the importance of student volunteers running the tables on campus.
“… When it’s your peer, I think you feel more comfortable doing that with them, and also because it’s someone you might recognize or see around or even be friends with, it’s harder to say no,” Estes said.
“I think a big thing that resonates isn’t necessarily a method, but just the fact that it’s other college students doing it,” Estes said. “I think that they’re a lot more receptive than if it’s just an adult that comes here and works here … when it’s your peer, I think you feel more comfortable doing that with them, and also because it’s someone you might recognize or see around or even be friends with, it’s harder to say no.”
Thomas shed light on the action NextGen is taking outside of tabling and registering students, noting that the organization has collaborated with other student organizations and has had College professors help provide information to students.
“We also do specifically on-campus things like reaching out to different clubs and organizations,” Thomas said. “We’ve partnered with other progressive groups on campus to do some of our larger events … and then we’ve also been doing things like speaking with professors, having them provide our information so that any students who might not pass us every day in Sadler or outside of Swem can reach out and get registered prior to the deadline.”
NextGen is not the only program encouraging political participation on campus. Vote Chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote JD Damarillo ’21 talked about the growth of his organization as one that participates in pushing voter registration at the College.
“As of the past few years, one of our members, Aakash Saraf ’19, did a lot of activist work for NextGen, and then in that, he reached out to this one organization, APIAVote,” Damarillo said. “APIAVote is the Asian Pacific Islander American voting organization in DC, and they basically do voter registration as well as get people to be politically active, specifically in the Asian-American part of the United States.”
Damarillo said that as midterm season has progressed, he has noticed more enthusiasm among voters, and he emphasized the importance of reaching out to voters through voter education events.
“I personally believe that more voter education events, stuff like that, are important to do, and that’s something I think that NextGen has worked on in part to do,” Damarillo said. “I think that’s one way to reach to those students, just more voter education events, and why their voice really matters, and from that, I either go person to person, or I have close friends that I’d say, ‘Hey, if your friend doesn’t believe in this kind of vote, [or] why their vote matters, it does, [and] here’s an explanation for why.’ So, it’s a lot of personal relationships and partnerships with other organizations.”
Young Democrats Secretary Louisa Janssen ’21 noted that her organization does not participate directly in voter registration and instead focuses on spreading awareness about local races.
“We still do as much as we can to promote voting and changing registration in less competitive areas or those who do not have frequent elections,” Janssen said. “We’re a part of the 2nd District, which is currently one of the most competitive districts in Virginia for the congressional race. We just really try to stress the importance of voting in this district specifically.”
Because NextGen prioritizes voter registration, Janssen said that Young Democrats, which focuses instead on canvassing, does not work with them directly. However, she emphasized the importance of collaborating with NextGen to improve overall education about voting at the College.
“We still try to maintain a good relationship with them, because we recognize they’re doing something very important that we can’t actually offer as an organization, so we try to promote their events, and inform people about them,” Janssen said. “… Even though we’re not directly working alongside them, we’re still making sure that our members of our organization are aware of what they are doing and how they can help out.”