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NextGen America highlights importance of young voters

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BY RACHEL JAMES

On Sept. 18, NextGen America and Need to Impeach, both of which Tom Steyer helped to found, hosted a Town Hall in Upper Olmsted. Steyer was a successful businessman and investor until he left to start NextGen.Tom Steyer attended the event and took questions from multiple audience members. NextGen is an organization that aims to increase civic participation and tries to register youth voters, while Need to Impeach is a movement that was launched on October 20, 2017, calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Need to Impeach and NextGen for America are working closely together this fall with the goal of increasing participation. While their agendas differ, their main goals are similar: to get people out to vote so that progressives can win.

The gubernatorial race in Iowa, according to Tufts University, is the 9th in the country in terms of the potential impact youth voters can have in elections. There are key races in Iowa that NextGen is specifically targeting: congressional 1st, congressional 3rd and the Governor’s race.

NextGen targets 41 campuses statewide and has also run a similar program in Virginia in 2017. In Virgina, NextGen has helped double young voter turnout since 2009. They are working in 11 different states currently: California, Arizona, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virgina, Florida and North Carolina.

“This election cycle we are flipping congressional seats and governor seats in eleven different states and Iowa is one of them,” said Haley Hager, the Iowa State Youth Director for NextGen America.

How they flip these congressional seats is through a program to increase youth voter registration called NextGen Rising.

“We register people to vote and then get them to pledge to vote, so that they turn out to vote for progressive leaders and folk who are actually going to stand up for young people’s values because right now, we have governor who isn’t doing that; we have a representative in Iowa’s third district, David Young, who isn’t doing that,” Hager said.

On Sept. 19, The NextGen for America booth was set up outside Hubble with a group of organizers helping Drake students get registered to vote. The NextGen booth registered dozens of Drake students through lunch time and even had some assistance from founder Tom Steyer during the first half of the afternoon. Two organizers, Mara Kealey and Sam George, shared how they got involved in NextGen.

“I have always kind of been politically involved, I was a student at Iowa State,” Kealy said. “I was always involved in campaigns and things and president of our ISU college Dems. So, it was just a natural step after graduating.”

“I grew up the son of two social workers and it’s something I’ve always cared about, and politics is something that’s always been close to my heart,” George said. “And ultimately, I want to go out and make a difference and make sure students are registered to vote.”

Many wonder why there is a big focus on young voters and about the importance of the next generation of voters registering. The amount of possible youth voters in this country is large enough that they have a lot of potential political power.

“People in the age 18-35 are actually the largest voting block here in Iowa, and we have so much influence,” Hager said.

“We really have serious weight to make a change in these upcoming elections and since young people really haven’t been that well represented leading up ‘til now, it’s really a time we have the power to take things and make them our own and have representatives who care about our values,” Kealey said.

According to their website, NextGen believes that the current representatives are not considering youth issues and subjects that they care about, such as equality and healthcare.

“At the end of the day, our representatives don’t listen to young people because we don’t vote,” George said. “We need to make sure our voices are heard and that we are casting ballots, and we cast ballots based on the issues we care about, so we can get representatives that actually represent us.”

The Town Hall hosted on Sept. 18 and the voter registration booth on Sept. 19 had the goals of informing voters and helping college students register to vote.

The goal is “empowering young people to make sure we are winning elections this year but also building leaders for the future,” Hager said.

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