Fairview Senior Shares Thoughts on Registering and Motivating New Voters

Every election season, political strategists talk about wooing swing voters, while one of the biggest voting blocks often goes overlooked, new voters. Julia Hunt is a senior at Fairview High School who knows a little something about mobilizing new voters. The YWCA of Boulder County recently recognized Hunt with its Unstoppable Award. She chatted with News Director Shannon Young earlier this week.

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    Fairview Senior Shares Thoughts on Registering and Motivating New Voters Shannon Young

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Shannon Young: Julia, you’ve coordinated a number of highly effective voter registration drives at Fairview High School. Tell listeners about those. 

Julia Hunt: Yeah, so our work to register students at Fairview High School, we think is really important because students – as you’ve said – are this large voting block that often goes overlooked in elections and by politicians. But we’re the ones whose future is being debated and legislated on, so we think it’s really important to get involved in that way.

We’ve done a number of voter registration drives with Colorado Democracy Challenge, which is a partner organization for New Era Colorado, which you may have heard of. It’s a Colorado organization working on youth voting rights and lots of progressive issues. And we partner with them and their organizers come to Fairview and we just set up tables and try to register as many students as possible, often in the span of just a few days. And it’s really a large effort with lots of student volunteers. That’s the work that we’re doing to register students at our school.

SY: And it’s been highly successful. Your efforts won recognition from the Secretary of State. Tell us about that award.

JH: That’s right. So it’s called the Eliza Pickrell Routt Award, and we won it in 2019, and it goes to schools that register over 85% of the eligible student population to vote.

So Eliza Routt was the wife of Colorado’s first governor and she was really involved in efforts to get the vote for women, women’s suffrage efforts. And so when women did get the vote in Colorado, she was allowed to become the first woman to register and the first woman to cast her ballot. So, this award is named after her and just carrying on in her honor that tradition of registering voters.

SY: Are you gonna be old enough to vote in this upcoming election? 

JH: I will not, sadly. I wish.

SY: Well, how does it feel to be advocating for rights that you yourself could not yet exercise? 

JH: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because most people at Fairview are pre-registering, which you can do at 16 and are not actually going to be able to vote in the recent elections. But I think it’s really important to get people excited about this right even before they’re able to exercise it and just get them thinking about how they need to be active citizens in our democracy, even if they aren’t 18 yet, and can’t yet exercise that right to vote.

It’s still important to be involved in political processes and be ready when that essential right does become available to them.

SY: Have you encountered any particular challenges when it comes to registering your peers to vote or, or motivating them to get to the polls? 

JH: Definitely. There’s a lot of – I guess I would say apathy among some students. In my freshman year, when I first became involved in the voter registration drives, I got very discouraged because you go around to a lot of people and most of them just aren’t interested in stopping what they’re doing to fill out this form. But I think that I’ve learned over the years to, first of all, not take it personally when people aren’t interested in registering to vote and also in learning to connect with people in a way that gets them excited about registering to vote and voting. So that’s something that I’ve learned over the years, but it’s definitely a struggle, cuz, you know people aren’t necessarily involved in politics, but that’s something we’re trying to change.

SY: Okay, and you mentioned getting excited, like the challenge is getting people excited to vote. What would be some of the most effective ways that politicians or political parties, or just political actors in general could do to motivate youth engagement? 

JH: Well, I think that unfortunately a lot of it is happening in negative ways. I mean, I know with Roe v Wade being overturned, that’s definitely something that’s galvanized a lot of young people to get more involved in politics, at least with going to protests and marches or writing postcards to voters. And I think that getting registered to vote and voting themselves is definitely a part of that.

But in terms of positive ways of motivating young people to vote, I think that just using social media, of course, and using positive messaging to really show people that young people do have power in our democracy. I mean, youth voters were 27% of the vote in Colorado in the 2020 presidential elections. They made up the largest voting block. So we do have this power, even if we sometimes feel powerless.

SY: Do you see any particular tendencies – and I understand that living in the Boulder bubble may kind of put some blinders on – but do you see any clear political tendencies among youth that are your peer groups?

JH: Definitely. At least at Fairview it’s quite liberal, people registering. And when we are registering voters, of course we have to be nonpartisan. But that’s what I’ve seen is that most people are affiliated with the Democratic Party. So that’s the trend that I’ve seen in Boulder.

SY: What do you see as the biggest blind spots that political parties have with regards to courting new voters?

JH: Gosh, definitely something that I think got overlooked is Colorado used to have a law that allowed 17 year-olds to vote in primary elections if they’d be 18 years old by the general. And there was an amendment a few years to the Colorado Constitution that was voted on and passed that basically changed the wording of the Constitution from all citizens who are 18 years of age can vote to only citizens of 18 years of age can vote.

And it was just supposed to kind of be this anti-immigrant rhetoric. I don’t think it has any legal implications on immigration issues, but it did have this side effect of getting rid of that law where 17 year-olds are allowed to vote in primary elections, which was a really important thing for youth voting and for mobilizing young voters.

So I think that’s an issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. But at Fairview, myself and my teacher supervisor, Mr. Hendrickson, who’s a social studies teacher there, we are meeting with local organizations and state legislators and trying to do something about that because I think that’s a blind spot for politicians not having this law that 17 year-olds can vote early.

SY: What would you say are some of the biggest issues that are important to young voters? 

JH: Definitely, I’ve seen that women’s rights are really important to young voters. I think that my friends and I were all really shocked when Roe v Wade was overturned because this was a right that our mothers had, and so we all assumed that it’d be guaranteed to us as well, and it should have been guaranteed to us as well. But that was definitely a huge shock and an issue that’s really important to a lot of us.

And then also I think that climate change is of course a huge issue because that’s what’s affecting us in the future. And, that’s again, another blind spot for politicians because as we’ve seen, politicians are on the older side and they don’t necessarily represent the needs and wants of the younger generation in protecting our earth.

SY: Anything else that you’d like to add for our listeners to consider? 

JH: Yeah, I guess definitely make sure to register to vote and vote in the November 8th election. And yeah, just making sure to prioritize youth voters I think is really important because people can often feel this feeling of powerlessness or apathy, and it’s really important to combat that in youth voters and to make sure our voices are heard.

SY: Julia Hunt is a senior at Fairview High School and is this year’s recipient of the YWCA of Boulder County’s Unstoppable Award. Julia, thanks for coming by the studio to chat with me today. 

JH: Thank you so much.

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    Fairview Senior Shares Thoughts on Registering and Motivating New Voters Shannon Young

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