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As pundits fumble figuring out young voters, here are the facts as millennials flood the polls

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Young voters with Beto O'Rourke (Photo: Facebook)

Cable news commentators have spent the past several days talking about the youth vote as if it is an endangered species the late Steve Irwin will lead them to. Whether Democratic or Independent, pundits all agreed they have no idea what will happen with the youth vote.

CNN host Don Lemon’s Sunday evening panel discussion dealt with the typical misnomer that young people don’t vote. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen explained to Lemon that Florida has seen a dramatic increase in voter registration thanks, in large part, to the students from Parkland. Indeed, Florida had a 41 percent increase after the students started their voter registration drive. Yet, everyone on the CNN panel agreed, they have no idea what will happen with young voters.

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But if the numbers in Florida are high, Texas blows it out of the water. “Rockstar” candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign met young people where they are in every county in the state. His campaign did outreach beyond traditional four-year universities and reached out to community colleges, often ignored by candidates. Texas had a 509 percent increase in voter registration for young voters, notorious Texas Democrat Paul Begala told Raw Story.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) explained Sunday that a law passed before she was in office has prevented students from being able to name their university addresses as their permanent addresses for voter registration. Democrat Elissa Slotkin took it as a challenge. She worked with students to help them register according to the regulation and added 20,000 new students to the Michigan voter rolls. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Slotkin now has a 2 in 3 chance of taking out Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI).

There’s also a slew of young candidates running for offices this election that are reaching out to their fellow millennials asking for votes. This election is the first election where every member of the Millennial Generation will be able to vote. The generation, born between 1981 and 2000, is 80 million strong, making a hefty age group politicos can no longer afford to ignore. They’re progressive, diverse and they’re not big fans of Donald Trump.

Democrats have always had the ability to capture the youth vote based on the issues, but it was rare candidates and elected officials were willing to do the work to get them. In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama was forced to look outside the box for Iowa Caucus voters. The Clintons had an infrastructure on the ground and John Edwards had run with John Kerry just four years before. The Obama campaign looked to young people, people of color and students for their caucus-goers.

That model is the one O’Rourke has followed in Texas. By asking for people to update registrations or register for the first time, knocking the doors and asking young people to vote, he’s garnered real results.

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The best way to get young people to vote is simply to ask them to, but because elected officials ignore youth, thinking they never vote, no one ever asks. Because politicians assume young people won’t vote, they’re not included in outreach and the vicious cycle repeats itself. Meeting youth, where they are and ensuring a positive experience, works every time.

“Positive social proof works,” wrote youth vote genius Jefferson Smith. A candidate doesn’t need a celebrity, they don’t need to be a former punk band member and they don’t even have to be young themselves.

This year has changed everything. The registration numbers are up but the early voting numbers are high for excited young people ready to make their voices heard. Young candidates are reaching out person-to-person, peer-to-peer and friend-to-friend. Those under 35 will turn out this election because someone has finally asked for their votes.

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The true test for Democrats, however, will come in after the election is over and whether a Democratic Congress will incorporate young professionals, students, and recent high school graduates as part of their legislative outreach.


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