Democrats see young voters as critical in Georgia runoffs


Democrats see boosting turnout among first-time young voters as crucial to securing victory in January’s Senate runoffs in Georgia, which has historically favored the Republican Party.

Democrats were successful in turning out the Black vote in November, which played a role in President-elect Joe Biden becoming the first Democratic nominee to win the Peach State since 1992. And the party says that greater turnout from young voters — especially those who couldn’t vote in the general election — could put them over the top in the runoffs.

“For example, there are 23,000 young people here in Georgia who will become eligible to vote just between the November election and this Jan. 5 runoff, and a decade of organizing, much of this work led by Stacey Abrams, has put the wind in our sails here in Georgia. What we’re feeling for the first time in four years is hope,” Democratic Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff told ABC News on Sunday.

Young voters already showed their strength in Georgia in the general election, making up 21 percent of the state’s voters, according to an analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. That’s in addition to the number of young people referenced by Ossoff on Sunday, a figure that has also been highlighted by the Civics Center, a group devoted to promoting civic engagement with young people.

In Georgia, voters must be at least 17 and a half years old to register to vote and 18 years old to cast a ballot.

But the party still faces an uphill battle in the state. Recent trends show Georgia Republicans are more adept at turning out voters in the state’s runoffs. And the GOP candidates collectively received more votes in this year’s general election. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) garnered 86,000 more votes than Ossoff, while the other Democratic candidate, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, benefited from the fact that two Republicans — Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins — were on the ballot in his race, splitting the party’s vote.

“Runoff elections are just like any other election. They’re all about turnout, enthusiasm, and that is based on engagement,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “Democrats cannot afford to make the assumption about people who came out in the presidential election are going to automatically come out in the runoff election. Nor can they assume that the level of enthusiasm is the same.”

Seawright said it was important for Democrats to identify the voters who voted early in the general election and encourage them to turn out early again given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The climate and the condition is going to be unknown, so we have to control the controllables,” he said.

Democrats are already touting promising signs for mail-in voting. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted on Sunday that more than 600,000 Georgians have already requested absentee ballots, a positive development for Democrats who have been encouraging voters to vote by mail.

The prospect of off-year runoff elections, taking place days after the 2020 holiday season, presents a new challenge for any party or group looking to galvanize young voters.

“The most likely voter in a runoff is one that’s got a personal commitment to a particular campaign or has shown an interest in voting as a citizen,” said Chuck Clay, a former state GOP chair and current attorney at Hall Booth Smith.

Clay added that it is too much of an assumption to say that young voters in a state like Georgia are a monolith.

“The assumption that every 17- and 18-year-old is a Democrat is specious,” he said. “A lot of young people like Trump even if they didn’t vote.”

Nonpartisan groups devoted to engaging and turning out young voters are looking to keep them informed and register voters ahead of the election.

“As new voters, young voters are particularly vulnerable to drop off in a runoff election,” said Carolyn DeWitt, the president of Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit aimed at engaging young voters. “A lot of education needs to be done for all voters, particularly young voters that are new voters.”

DeWitt says Rock the Vote is leaning into its relational organizing program, which leverages personal networks among young voters.

“Young people reaching out to their friends and families to make sure that they are committed to voting and that they have the information that they need to cast their ballot,” she said. “Relational organizing has been proven to be key in mobilizing youth, and specifically youth of color.”

DeWitt added that the organization is also working to combat misinformation as the race gains traction in the national media as the contest that will determine the balance of power in the Senate.

“One of the things we’re really focused on is making sure young people find a political home or a couple of political homes or civic homes … to make sure they are getting vetted, relevant information because what we saw in the 2020 election was that there was so much disinformation,” she said.

Rock the Vote, along with other nonpartisan voter turnout organizations, such as When We All Vote, have also partnered with high-profile figures like online influencers and athletes to encourage young people to register to vote and turn out.

When We All Vote has also partnered with organizations like the historically African American sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta, as well as the AME Church.

“We’re really honing in on all of our Georgia relationships with these national organizations that have these local connections to make sure that everybody is involved,” said Stephanie Young, the chief officer of culture and communications at When We All Vote.

Young warned that while political power players and the news media may be intently following the race, more work needs to be done to turn out the bulk of the vote.

“There will be a lot of energy that is built around this,” Young said. “But I will say the average folks aren’t necessarily tuning in as intently right now, so it’s our job to make sure we get them not only the tools and resources, but that we get them the energy they need to go out and vote.”

Tags 2020 election David Perdue Doug Collins Georgia Joe Biden Kelly Loeffler

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