Ready, Set, Vote

City High students worked with members of national organization NextGen, including a City alumna, to register youth voters.


TJ Murphy '19 fills out a voter registration form. Photo by Olivia Lusala

Ellis Chen, Reporter

With clipboards in hand, volunteers Naomi Meurice ’19 and Lottie Gidal ’19 sought voting-eligible students to register. The duo spent their Monday morning circulating the library to make sure that they had covered each student.

“I want to get as many people possible registered to vote, particularly high school students. There are a lot of high school students that aren’t registered that could be and could vote,” Meurice said. “There’s also a huge college population here and they can all vote in Iowa as long as they don’t vote in another state.”

As the November election looms, the two have worked with NextGen, an organization focused on bolstering the youth vote. Although originally focused on preventing climate change through voter mobilization, NextGen has expanded to a wider scope of issues commonly supported by youth, from immigration to health care reform.

“Young people haven’t always voted [in] as high of rates as their older counterparts. A lot of campaigns and organizations, as a result, haven’t figured that focusing on investing in young people is worth it. [They believe] it’s a lost cause because they’re not going to vote anyway,” Emmet Sandberg, Iowa City’s NextGen organizer, said. “We’re really focused on meeting young people where they’re at, hearing out in the issues that they care about, and then working to get them out to vote, which is such an important thing.”

NextGen could be fighting an uphill battle, however. According to the Census Bureau, the last midterm election cycle experienced low voter-turnout among young people, with just 23.1 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 voting. Despite this, members of the organization remain optimistic.

“I want people to know that voting is power, although it might seem like a small thing. People say, ‘Oh, I’m one person, it’s only one vote’ but that one vote could change things,” NextGen Media Fellow Shayna Jaskolka ‘18 said. “[There are] all these single people who say, ‘My one vote may not matter,’ but it does when you add them all up. So teaching people the importance of actually going out and voting and having your voice be heard is one of my biggest goals.”

Jaskolka spent the summer volunteering and doing door-to-door canvassing to register youth voters. Additionally, Jaskolka and other volunteers distributed “Pledge to Vote” cards to remind people who have already registered to vote in the midterm elections.

“I think NextGen is super important for young people because a lot of them are very passionate and fired up about politics right now,” Jaskolka said.

So far, NextGen has attempted to boost the youth vote and replicate progressive victories in other states by registering hundreds of voters, including around 1600 of the students coming to the University of Iowa campus for the first time.

“We just saw a primary election in Florida and [Andrew Gillum] is a NextGen-endorsed candidate who very few people thought could win. He ended up winning largely because of unprecedented levels of youth voter turnout around the colleges and universities that we were organizing in,” Sandberg said. “So we know that what we’re doing works. We saw it in Virginia in 2017, where we’ve dramatically changed the landscape of politics in the states, and that’s what we’re trying to do here and all over the country come November.”