As Democratic strategists begin gearing up for midterm elections in the fall, they are again planning to make young voters a key component of their strategy.
The Democratic National Committee held a conference call Tuesday for student newspaper reporters at colleges and universities to highlight its new Voter Expansion Project — an initiative aimed at increasing student voter turnout.
The project was initiated by former President Bill Clinton last month. In a video message to DNC supporters, he explained how the project would work to counter voter identification laws and other provisions that restrict voting and voter registration.
During the conference call, DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said one of the Democratic Party’s most important ideals is making voting accessible to all American citizens.
“To have a stronger country and a stronger party, our country does better and our party does better when more people’s voices are heard,” Elleithee said.
He went on to chastise the Republican Party for what he said was their insistence on restricting voter behavior. He said the Republican Party recognizes that they almost always have a disadvantage when it comes to the popular vote and therefore attempt to restrict voter turn out.
“Their recourse is to actually try to limit participation by making it harder to vote. Any group that tends to vote against them, they throw out obstacles — whether it be African Americans, whether it be Latinas, whether it’s women, whether it’s young people or college students.”
A representative from the University’s chapter of the College Republicans was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening.
Pratt Wiley, DNC director of voter protection and another moderator on the conference call, cited the recent North Carolina voter law passed by a Republican legislature that prevents college students from using their school IDs as identification at the polls.
He added that voter turnout — especially among young people — is vital for a thriving democracy.
“If there’s one thing more so than anything else that I want you all to take away is that it should be easy to vote,” Wiley said. “If you have any questions we can answer your questions, but no one should ever deny you your voice and your right to be heard.”
In recent elections, young people have been an important part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. In 2012, 60 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted for President Barack Obama.
However, a Harvard Institute of Politics survey released in December found that more than 50 percent of polled young people between the ages of 18 and 29 disapproved of Obama’s handling of key issues during his second term.
In a December conference call with Reuters, Trey Grayson, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the survey illustrates Obama’s declining support among young voters.
“This isn’t a problem for Obama because he’s not coming up for election again,” Grayson said. “But it is a potential problem for any Democratic candidate seeking to mobilize young Americans.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said it’s crucial for young people to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.
“Going into the election year and the president isn’t on the ballot, this is usually the year we see a high level of drop-off particularly from younger voters,” Irwin said. “As Democrats stand for more of the values younger people hold it’s important to get the voters out and let those voters know that their ideas and values are at stake even when the president isn’t on the ballot.”