By Raven Douglas, Political Director of MOVE Texas
I’ll never forget the first time I voted. It was a 2015 Texas constitutional election (riveting, I know) and I was ready to make my voice heard after an organizer at The University of Texas at San Antonio registered me to vote and got me to the polls. I come from a family that never talked about politics — they were committed to our community but distrusted the political system, as so many do. But when I was able to vote for that very first time, I was taking my power back. By casting my vote, I was taking a little bit of ownership over the direction of my home state.
Every eligible young person deserves to harness that singular moment of empowerment, too.
But that’s not the story you might be used to hearing. In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, I’m sure we will hear the same old, tired talking points about how young people “don’t vote” because they’re “apathetic.” Candidates scurry around the country, asking for our votes but fail to invest in getting our communities to turn out. A recent poll from the Alliance for Youth Action shows that at least 58 percent of young Democrats have never been contacted by a presidential campaign through text message, phone call, or in person at their door. We’ve seen this play out before, a self-fulfilling prophecy about the electoral power of young voters. But let’s be clear: The youth vote doesn’t have an apathy problem. We have an access problem.
As the youth vote has surged across the country, so have efforts to suppress it. Year after year, new barriers are constructed by state legislatures that prevent young people from accessing the ballot box. It’s a cynical effort by those in power to pick their voters for fear of losing should young people be allowed to vote.
Take Florida, where, last year, the legislature attempted to block early voting at colleges and universities erroneously citing a lack of parking. Thanks to the activism of young Floridians, a court ruling reversed this policy, and 12 on-campus voting locations were instituted across the state.
Unfortunately, other states like Texas have not been so lucky. Because of a 2019 policy from the Texas legislature restricting access to temporary polling places, campuses like Austin Community College had nine temporary early voting sites shuttered. And dozens of other campus polling places are set to close under these restrictions. It really makes you wonder if that new law had anything to do with a 300 percent increase in the youth vote since 2014?
When young people, and especially students, have access to a campus polling place, we are statistically more likely to exercise our right to vote. Increasing access to campus polling places is the surest way to increase access for young voters and help them flex their electoral muscles.
This is a fight I know well. Those organizers who got me to vote for the first time were from a group called MOVE Texas. They took me in, taught me the importance of increasing access for young people in Texas, and empowered me to join the fight. MOVE Texas has established itself as one of the leading voting rights organizations in the country, registering 30,000 new voters under the age of 30 in 2018 and another 24,000 in 2019. Our mission is simple: Tear down the barriers that prevent young people from being full participants in civic life. And efforts to suppress the youth vote have only made us more resilient in our fight for a better future. Despite the obstacles, we are building a democracy done right.
When local election officials tried to close the Texas State University polling place, we partnered with civil rights attorneys to ensure students had access to the ballot. Last year, our friends at New Era Colorado and Next Up fought and won on legislation to expand voter registration access to 16 and 17-year-olds to increase representation. Young folks at the Oregon Bus Project championed the fight for automatic voter registration expanding access to thousands and giving Oregon the highest voter registration rates in the country. These inspirational young activists have made one thing abundantly clear: When we fight back, we win.
The fight is just getting started. It is going to take all of us, working in community, to expand access to polling places and giving more young people a voice. So get registered, get active, and join us in the fight. Together, we can empower a new generation of voters to strengthen our democracy and start to fix what’s broken.
Raven Douglas is the Political Director of MOVE Texas, a grassroots, nonpartisan nonprofit organization ensuring young people have a voice in our democracy. Raven initially joined the MOVE team in 2016 as a field fellow before going on to intern at America Votes in Washington, D.C., and then worked as a legislative aide while participating in the Texas Legislative Internship Program in Austin, Texas. She is a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Raven is also a 2019 MTV Leaders for Change Winner, a grant program that invests in young people doing extraordinary work at the local level to advance voting access.
Over 4 million people will turn 18 between now and the 2020 election. MTV's +1thevote is encouraging all potential first-time voters to register and vote this November. It's time to make voting easier to do, and part of the milestones already happening in your life, from prom to graduation to birthdays. It's a year-long party and +1thevote is inviting you to help us shape the future. Who's your +1?