The Knight Foundation issued an open call for ideas on how to get more Americans involved in their communities so that they will have a voice in local, state and national issues. I answered the call and submitted an idea to increase Millennials’ interest in elections, boost voter turnout and jump-start civic participation.
Some background. Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 have the lowest turnout. In Philadelphia, Millennials are not targeted for voter outreach because they are “inactive” (meaning they have not voted in five years or are not registered to vote).
With the cutback in civic education in the schools and no targeted outreach, it’s not surprising that Millennials are not showing up on Election Day. In 2014, turnout for Pennsylvania’s competitive gubernatorial race was 36 percent. That was Philadelphia’s lowest citywide turnout in a midterm election since 1998. By one estimate, youth turnout was 20 percent, the worst turnout in a midterm election since 1940.
The takeaway of the 2008 and 2012 elections is that young people will turn out if they are the target of voter education initiatives. But the dirty little secret about voting is that incumbents have a vested interest in keeping the electorate small. Philly’s political machine spends few, if any, resources encouraging new voters to get involved. The lack of information and the city’s archaic ward system are barriers to participation.
Yo! Philly Votes will bridge the information gap. Our mobile app will provide a calendar of nonpartisan candidate and policy forums, and an Election Day incident reporting tool. The flattening of newsrooms means there are fewer journalists to report on what’s happening at polling places. So we will crowdsource election protection.
For more information, check out Yo! Philly Votes at Knight News Challenge.