Community

Organizers Include Teens in Efforts to Increase Voter Turnout

D.C. Youth Receive a Primer on Rubrics, Responsibilities of Citizenship

With the 2020 D.C. primaries and general election quickly approaching, the focus among community organizers has been on increasing voter turnout and how to best encourage the disillusioned to participate in electoral politics.

For Lauren Grimes, a key strategy involves engaging teenagers at various high schools and community centers in conversations about the conditions of their neighborhoods, and letting them know that 16 and 17-year-old D.C. residents, while not yet of legal voting age, can pre-register and become more astute about the process and its significance.

She said that as young people learn more about the role local politicians play in shaping their lives, they can make better-informed choices at the ballot box.

“We know that money talks in politics and there’s corruption. But being part of this process in voting and other ways is the foundation of our society,” said Grimes, founder of the Community Enrichment Project, an organization formed three years ago with the purpose of instilling a sense of civic engagement and awareness in underserved communities.

“We want young people to be aware but not discouraged from being part of the process,” Grimes continued. “Voting and taking part in this process is a choice. I encourage them to take part in it [because] it’s one of the strongest tools we have.”

In late 2018, the D.C. Council voted to stall legislation that would have granted 16- and 17-year-old District residents the right to vote in local elections. The bill, introduced by D.C. Council member Charles (D-Ward 6), would’ve positioned D.C. alongside neighboring Hyattsville and Takoma Park as a jurisdiction that extends voting rights to teenagers.

During that election year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and other incumbents won reelection with citywide voter turnout hovering around 46 percent. Although voter turnout fell between 45 and 55 percent in Wards 1 through 6, less than 40 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Wards 7 and 8 – areas with the highest concentration of Black residents facing socioeconomic disparities.

Since the District has a mostly-Democratic voter population, the upcoming Democratic primary (June 2) will essentially determine the de facto winners for the Nov. 3 electoral contests for D.C. Council At-large seats and for Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8. Beyond the U.S. presidency, other local and national positions up for grabs include local and national party committee members and the delegate for the U.S. House of Representatives — a position which Eleanor Holmes Norton has held for nearly 30 years.

During the current election season, the D.C. Board of Elections (DCBOE) has cultivated relationships with community organizations and implemented a media strategy to increase voter registration. The campaign has taken DCBOE’s comprehensive voter outreach and education division to local high schools, homeless shelters and the D.C. Department of Corrections.

During high school registration drives, eligible students begin their pre-voter registration and explore opportunities to become student election workers.

“Our high school students are excited and some of them aren’t eligible to vote yet. However, students born in 2002 are especially excited about participating and expressing their voice in the democratic process for the first time,” said LaDawne White, DCBOE’s media relations representative.

“They fully understand the importance of voting and the power of the vote. Their worldview kind of impacts this energy and attitude. They want to know when, how and what they need to do to get registered and ready for Election Day.”

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