By all accounts, voting levels in the 2018 U.S. midterm election are set to shatter previous records, with numbers and engagement more comparable to a typical presidential election than a midterm one.
Perhaps most importantly, first-time voters–young people, immigrants, people of color, and others–are voting in record numbers. Many of these people had been previously marginalized by political campaigns that fell short of reaching their communities.
As of early November, voter turnout among 18-29 year olds in Texas had increased 508% from 2014, while African-American and Latinx vote rates more than doubled. In Georgia, voter turnout for 19-28 year olds was up 476% at last count, with African-American and Latinx votes up a whopping four and five times their 2014 rates. In Pennsylvania, the youth vote has increased fourfold.
In 17 states, more people had already voted by Halloween than voted in the entire 2014 midterm election.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- The two-year Trump horror show has revealed for many the importance of voting, the relative fragility of democracy, and the stark contrast between those in government who wish to work toward the common good, and those who do not.
- Voters became more educated about long-standing voter suppression practices, which finally received coverage from mainstream and social media. Early voting can help inoculate against Election Day SNAFUs.
- Many of the candidates, such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, are genuinely stirring, and offer voters solutions about the issues they care deeply about.
- People around the U.S., women in particular, formed or became involved with highly energized and effective activist groups, which are informing public policy and getting out the vote.
The most important factor in 2018, however, is:
- The power of grassroots activism to reach the marginalized and ignored.
Many grassroots groups emerged after the disastrous 2016 election to fill the vacuum left by the Democratic party. These groups, such as Woke Vote, Black Voters Matter, Alliance for Youth Action, Organize Florida, New Georgia Project, Move Texas, and others took matters into their own hands by organizing in their own neighborhoods and convening person-to-person, where their peers already were–in the neighborhood churches, colleges and coffee houses. The organizers had stakes in their communities and long-haul dedication, unlike political campaigns that swoop in (and out) each election season. The organizers were in places that many in the new activist groups, like Indivisible and Swing Left, weren’t reaching.
Aside from the newly minted U.S. citizens and 18-year-olds, the first-time voters include groups that no one had previously bothered reaching out to, buying into the persistent mythology that students, Latinos, African Americans and others turn out in lower numbers to vote. Organize Florida helped resettle and engage refugees from Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria, as well as help get Florida’s Proposition 4 on the ballot, which would restore voting rights to felons who had served their time. Woke Vote, Alliance for Youth Action, NextGen, and others are engaging students at black colleges and community colleges about issues that speak to them. As one source put it, “traditional efforts to turn out student voters often came down to encouraging the College Democrats chapter at big universities to hand out fliers on the quad.”
No matter the results this Election Day (fingers are crossed), grassroots organizers have had a lasting impact on the electoral system by educating and engaging new and overlooked voters, advocating for vital issues and rights, and adding to the civic fabric of their communities.
One way to continue to support on-the-ground grassroots activism is to support Airlift, a fund that channels donations directly to strategically chosen grassroots groups who are doing the most effective work now, and will continue to do so after November 6.
These two pieces explain a lot about why voter turnout has traditionally been low among 18-29 year olds:
Have you been newly engaged to vote? Let us know in the comments.
Photos: MOVETexas, Organize Florida