Texas Democrats, GOP race to recruit young, low-turnout voters

On a hot September day at the University of Houston, the field in front of the campus library was dedicated to romance — and voter registration.

Purple tablecloths covered three tables that stood tentatively on the lawn as SZA hummed “The Weekend” from a nearby speaker. Each was adorned with roses, chocolates, candles and a list of prompts for Cougars backup quarterback Ike Ogbogu to ask students as he helped run an on-campus “Speed ​​Dating for Democracy” event.

Among them: What do you think are the most important issues or concerns young people face today? Describe your relationship to politics in one word. How hot are you for democracy?

It was National Voter Registration Day, and NextGen America had recruited Ogbogu to encourage students to register to vote. It was one of dozens of similar registration drives taking place Tuesday at Texas colleges and universities — though possibly the most creative — as advocacy groups recruited young people to vote in this fall’s elections.

Though there are an estimated 2.8 million 18- to 24-year-olds in Texas, young people are a notoriously low voter turnout in a state that already has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. But organizations like NextGen and MOVE Texas are committed to changing that — and they say Texas’ newest voters could help turn the state blue this fall.

“As a group we’re not as engaged as we should be just because we’re young and feel like our voice either doesn’t carry weight or we just don’t have a clue how to get out there and register and vote,” said Ogbogu, a 23-year-old senior from California. “We don’t know the whole process. So I think it’s important for me to support NextGen America, which helps students actually get out there and vote.”

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It was the first time NextGen had a presence at National Voter Registration Day in Texas as they have a lofty goal of 40,000 registrations by October 11, the deadline for submitting an application. They offered a range of snacks, stickers and branded merchandise to students who filled out the forms or committed to vote. Some stopped by just for the treats, while others asked for help updating their address or finding out who’s on the ballot.

The increased effort to reach young voters comes in an election cycle that has already exceeded expectations. For months Republicans predicted a red wave across the country, but the field is muddy after a series of mass shootings and the fall of Roe v. Wade has unleashed a tide of left-leaning activism.

On Tuesday, the good government group Common Cause announced a Stories of Democracy initiative that will offer $200 grants to young people of color to submit their stories about elections and social justice.

Young people tend to choose bluer than older generations, according to data collected by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. In Texas, 62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democratic President Joe Biden in 2020; 35 percent voted for former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

That’s not to say Republicans aren’t courting young voters: Last weekend Conservatives hosted the “Texas Youth Summit” at The Woodlands, and US Rep. Dan Crenshaw will host another youth-focused event in Houston early next month.

Voter turnout among young voters in Texas, while still low, has increased steadily in recent election cycles. About 1.8 million 18- to 29-year-olds cast their ballots in the 2020 general election, according to a post-election analysis by Republican strategist Derek Ryan.

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In the election two years ago – when turnout was generally lower, typical of midterm races – 1.1 million young Texans voted. In the 2016 presidential election, it was around 1.2 million, according to Ryan’s report.

Texas has more than 17.5 million registered voters.


‘Voting is popular now’: Young Texans are voting in record numbers

Every statewide official is on the ballot in Texas this fall, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who is up against Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso. O’Rourke, who earned national recognition for his 2018 challenge against US Senator Ted Cruz, was a collectible figure for young Texans.

Earlier this year, O’Rourke hosted a series of town halls aimed at young people, and on Wednesday he announced a 14-stop college tour in the days leading up to the voter registration deadline.

“It’s young leaders across the state who are bringing about change in Texas right now,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Five minutes from the University of Houston event, NextGen America President Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez helped set up a table at Texas Southern University, one of the largest historically black colleges or universities in the country. Texas “plays an outsized role in politics and American democracy,” she said, but it’s also more difficult to register to vote here than in other states.

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