As part of its effort to organize young voters to go to the polls this year, the voter outreach group NextGen America has been organizing on college campuses in swing states for the past year, including an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. That work paid dividends in Florida for the group in August with the election of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
NextGen – which is funded by California philanthropist Tom Steyer – said that the presence of organizers in youth-heavy precincts in Tallahassee near Florida A&M University helped expand turnout five times higher than in the 2014 primary election. At Florida Memorial University in Miami, turnout was 150 percent higher than in 2014, they said.
Last week in the grand ballroom on the FAMU campus in Tallahassee, Next Gen’s Black Lives Rising program teamed up with the Color of Change PAC and hosted a brunch to engage young black voters who traditionally don’t vote in midterm elections.
Of course, part of their work is easier since Gillum – an FAMU alum – is at the top of the ticket in November.
“I want Gillum to be elected, and I want Amendment 4 (restoration of voting rights for felons) to pass,” said Kayla Lawson, a 21-year-old senior studying journalism. Lawson is a “team leader” with Color of Change PAC, and she says her job is to try to engage young black voters on campus to see why it’s in their own best interests to register and vote.
“We try to build up that connection, and I think that we have seen that happening with the work that we’re doing,” she says, referring to student debt as an issue that persuades classmates that they actually have something personally at stake by voting.
She also admits that having Gillum on the ballot “definitely” encourages people to vote on the FAMU campus, so it hasn’t been too difficult to get them motivated.
Color of Change PAC officials said the group’s goal is to get three million black voters to the polls this year across America.
Dominique Sanders, is the regional field manager for Color of Change PAC. The organization is active this year in Tallahassee, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. Their aim is to get “low-propensity” voters of all ages to the polls.
“Our focus is reminding those voters that their voice does matter – every vote counts,” she says.
Gianni Bryce is a junior studying cardiopulmonary science at FAMU. He says the nomination of Gillum lends a sense of urgency to November’s election that he admits he wouldn’t feel if another Democrat had won the Aug. 28 primary. But he also said that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 has also created a heightened sense of importance for November’s vote.
“Trump’s election shocked people and made them aware of the importance of voting,” he said.
Tatiana Hippolyte, a junior originally from Orlando, says raising the minimum wage, ensuring pay equity for women, improving funding for education and making college more affordable are the most important issues for her this election.
She also supports Amendment 4, which would restore felons voting rights, “because I feel strongly that if you pay your dues to society, you should be able to have your rights restored. It’s kind of sad that isn’t the case now.”
NextGen is organizing at 45 college campuses throughout the country this year.
Steyer announced that he his was putting $5.2 million directly into Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign against Republican Ron DeSantis last month. However, that still pales compared to his spending in Florida in 2014, where he spent nearly $20 million in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Rick Scott in his reelection campaign.
Despite the excitement of organizers at the FAMU get-out-the-vote brunch, not everybody who attended the brunch knew – or cared – anything about politics. “What election?” one woman said as she waiting in line for the free food.
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