Organizing and activism is driving youth turn out

Student organization activates thousands of students to vote in election

Press Release

-For Immediate Release-

For More Information:
Manny Rin, Student PIRGs New Voters Project Director, 925-234-1457, [email protected]/opentextbookalliance
Josh Chetwynd, Communications Manager, 303-573-5558, [email protected]

Nationwide In the past two week, the Student PIRGs New Voters Project, one of the country’s oldest and largest youth-led voter mobilization efforts, has reached more than 750,000 young people by organizing virtual Phone-a-thon events as part of a coordinated effort to help register and turn out students.

Millennials and Gen Z make up the largest group of potential voters in the country. Historically, youth voters have been underrepresented in politics due to low voter turnout, but early voting rates and a swell of activism this year show that young people are poised to reverse this trend in 2020. 

Despite being online, events led by Student PIRGs New Voters Project took the spirit of high energy campaign rallies that typically happen in person. They featured music, Halloween costumes, keynote speakers and large numbers of excited volunteers. In total, more than 3,500 volunteers participated in helping their peers make plans to vote before Nov. 3.

“We need to do everything we can in the final days to make sure we help first-time voters like me make a plan,” said Milu Parrillas, a freshman at Georgia State University. “Young people are the largest and most diverse generation in America. We can influence this election but only if we vote. Just because we are organizing online, doesn’t mean we can’t make it fun!”

Information from student guides on how to vote safely in person is helpful, but young people reaching out to their peers has proven to be a far more effective way of assisting new voters get out to the polls. Health concerns with in-person voting due to COVID-19 have been a common issue that student callers have looked for direction in addressing. 

We’ve had conversations with dozens of young people who tested positive for COVID-19 and could no longer vote early because they were quarantining,said Niamh Harrop, a student at University of Central Florida.We tell students about their emergency absentee balloting options in their states and work with quarantine student housing units on campuses across the country to make sure students who are quarantining can still have their voices heard.”

Organizing across 17 states, the Student PIRGs New Voters Project will continue its get-out-the-vote drives Monday and Tuesday with massive virtual “Party at the Polls” Zoom events. 

“We have traded in our clipboards for Google Docs,” said Hannah Varnell, a student at University of North Carolina–Charlotte. “Now, we are delivering class announcements through our laptop cameras while seated at our kitchen tables.”

Despite pandemic-related challenges, Student PIRG groups have persisted throughout the election season by organizing massive numbers of students on campuses across the country. In particular, the group has focused on large days of action such as National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22 and the inaugural Vote Early Day on Oct. 24 when the organization reached more than 500,000 students. In addition, over the course of the fall semester, the group educated more than 100,000 students in virtual classroom announcements; helped classmates through phone calls to make more than 15,000 plans and pledges to vote safely; and partnered with hundreds campus administrators, faculty and other student groups to assist in all facets of the voting process.

“We worked with administrators and student governments to send out all campus emails that reached thousands of students on National Voter Registration Day,” said Oriana Price-Homes, a student at Rutgers University–Newark. “Organizing on days like this helped us register hundreds of students in a short period of time. Building a diverse vote coalition on campus was critical to reach every student on campus.”

Campus vote coalitions have played an important role in creating a culture of civic engagement this year. In Florida, for example, the Student PIRGs group at the University of Central Florida organized a diverse group of student organizations, including the Campus Democrats, Campus Republicans, Latin American Students Association, Pre-Med American Medical Student Association, and more to register as many of their friends as possible on National Voter Registration Day. 

“Nationally, I am encouraged to see so many young people voting early and the work our student leaders and our partners contributed to that effort,” Manny Rin, New Voters Project director, said. “After the election, the work continues to make sure the youth voice is heard. Our student leaders will continue working with their campuses to ensure voting is a part of the fabric of their institutions and not just an effort every 4 years”

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The New Voters Project campaign, one of the largest nonpartisan youth voter mobilization efforts in the country. The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has run peer-to-peer student voter mobilization drives to turn out the youth vote on college campuses for almost 40 years. Its philosophy is that the full participation of young people in the political process is essential to a truly representative, vibrant democracy. The New Voters Project does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, a political candidate or political party for elected office.
The Student PIRGs is a network of student-run and student-funded organizations that work with professional staff at colleges and universities to make sure our peers have the skills, opportunities and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Our network on over 100 campuses provides the training, professional support and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry and more. For over 40 years we’ve helped students to get organized, mobilized and energized so they can continue to be on the cutting edge of positive change.