Lindsay Pryor from the Office of Secretary of State’s voter outreach team talks about making voting more attractive to Millennials. (Photo courtesy of Gracelin Moore)
It’s a familiar, but vexing topic among election administrators across Washington and America: how do you engage “Millennials,” those 18 to 30-ish, in public life and voting? The sector typically votes at lower levels than their elders.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a veteran of state, local and national election reform efforts, and a panel of experts tried it on for size Friday at a Capitol forum sponsored by Wyman, the Foley Institute for Public Policy & Public Service, and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation. One early conclusion was that youth of today are not “disengaged” from direct action and involvement in their communities, even though they may often feel that political involvement, including voting, is not an effective or relevant choice.
Only about a quarter of the Millennials surveyed recently are alienated completely from civic engagement, and most are not “just young and cynical,” but rather are creative, contributing members of society, said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. The challenge is to use the assets and passion of young people and to make progress on issues that are important to the generation, she said.
Wyman and others concurred that today’s youth have much to offer, and predicted they will eventually join their elders in excellent voter turnout and other facets of civic life.
Mel Netzhammer, chancellor of Washington State University-Vancouver, said students separate voting from active civic engagement, but see great value from displaying citizenship in other ways, such as fighting campus items made in sweat shops. The “Arab Spring” was a youth movement promoted by social media and eco-friendly policies around the country are promoted by student activism, he said.
Civic engagement is a year-around activity, not just the act of voting, said Toby Crittenden, director of the Washington Bus, a nonprofit group based in Seattle that promotes public awareness for younger voters. He cautioned against typecasting Millennials as underperforming voters. The demeaning label of “go sit in the corner” can actually be a self-fulfilling prophesy, he said.Lindsay Pryor, voter education and outreach coordinator for the State Elections Division, outlined a varietyof strategies, including the state Mock Elections for K-12, curriculum for teaching about voting, engaging campuses, making registration easy, and working to ease the deadly-serious image that voting has. “Let’s make it fun!” she said, plopping on a wild feather headpiece that had the audience laughing.