NextGen America will target Arizona youth in its $32 million campaign to register voters ahead of elections in 2022, and Arizona organizers will concentrate their efforts at ASU in part because of the increase in young voter turnout in the 2020 elections.
The group's goal is to register 25,000 new young voters in Arizona through campus and virtual outreach after registering 10,553 voters in 2020, exceeding the year's goal by about 500. Simone Rossi, the Arizona organizing manager at NextGen America, an ASU graduate and former member of Undergraduate Student Government Tempe, said the group sees a lot of potential in Arizona following its 2020 voter registration campaign.
"ASU is one of the biggest public universities in the country, and Maricopa County itself was one of the most crucial counties in the entire country, so making sure that we're focusing that effort in that area and we're focusing on mobilizing youth and fighting off disenfranchisement is super important to us," Rossi said.
The 2022 midterm elections in Arizona will feature a gubernatorial race, a U.S. Senate race, and multiple state and local elections. After going blue in the 2020 presidential election and electing Democrat Mark Kelly to the Senate, Arizona has the potential to elect more Democrats to the highest offices in the state. NextGen America is hoping that capitalizing on the youth vote will do just that.
NextGen America plans to work with the NextGen ASU club and other campus groups such as March for Our Lives at ASU and student government to help recruit students to be volunteers and run events to register students to vote. MFOL at ASU hosted an event with NextGen America on National Voter Registration Day to register students.
Jacob Sumner, a senior studying computer science and political science and the president of MFOL at ASU, said although civic engagement isn't a core focus of the club, it is important for the issues MFOL does focus on.
"When we vote, we will impact elections and make progress in the fight against gun violence," Sumner wrote in an email.
According to The Harvard Youth Poll conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics, gun control issues are important to voters between the ages of 18 and 29, with 19% saying they couldn't maintain a friendship with someone who had opposing views on the issue.
Rossi said NextGen America is looking to find students who are passionate about issues that affect them in Arizona to lead the youth campaign and help educate young voters on elections in the state. Specific to Arizona, Rossi said voter restriction bills have disenfranchised young people and it should be remedied at the ballot box.
She said the pandemic has created a challenge with recruiting volunteers, but students are still excited to get involved. Rossi said NextGen America is retraining volunteers on how to table on campus and register students in person. Parts of the training also include educating volunteers on how to answer questions and talk about how elections function.
"I know a lot of students who I've talked to so far this semester, they haven't even really done anything on campus yet because they started school in the middle of a pandemic so everything is basically really new to them," Rossi said.
Youth voter turnout in Arizona increased the most of any state in the western region from 2016 to 2020, with 33% of 18- to 29-year-olds voting in 2016 and 51% voting in 2020, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
Joshua Valenzuela, a junior studying politics and the economy and the former president of NextGen ASU, said students can look forward to engaging events from NextGen ASU in addition to working to register other students to vote.
"NextGen ASU (worked) on events that focused not only on promoting voting and civic engagement within the ASU student body, but also promoting progressive policy positions and proposals," Valenzuela wrote in an email.
Previous years' events included discussions on sustainability, diversity and mental health. Although Valenzuela won't be returning as the club's president, he said he's excited to see these kinds of events and voter registration work from the club once it becomes active again for the 2022 election.
"I'm certain (the) team of student organizers will be ready to rebuild the club and help the campaign to register young voters here in AZ," Valenzuela wrote in an email.
For students interested in registering to vote or getting involved in NextGen's campaign, the group will be hosting an event on the Tempe campus on Nov. 15.
"We really want to get other volunteers to register voters, but this is also an opportunity to talk to students on campus and get them interested in rejoining the chapter and getting the ball rolling even further on that," Rossi said.
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Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.