Young voters are driving what could be higher-than-normal turnout in this year’s election

By: - October 16, 2018 6:05 am

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Young voters seem to be preparing to show up to the polls in larger numbers on Election Day, which foreshadows higher-than-normal overall voter turnout, one election official said.

More than 30,000 people registered to vote this September, the last full month residents can register before the November election, Commissioner of the Department of Elections Chris Piper said at a Board of Elections meeting last week.

That’s up from 16,500 people who registered in the same month in 2014 before midterm elections.

“It’s not quite presidential, but it’s certainly higher,” Piper said at the meeting. Voter registration closed Monday.

He also noted requests for student absentee ballots have shot up. As of Oct. 15, 29,197 students have requested an absentee ballot. Leading into last year’s gubernatorial race, only 18,725 students requested absentee ballots.

Only one other category had more requests: People who needed to vote absentee because of “personal business” or vacation.

In 2014, 123,221 total ballots were cast among all categories of allowable absentee voters. Data on student-specific ballots wasn’t available from the Department of Elections.

So far this year, Virginians have requested a total of 126,013 absentee ballots and 43,170 have been returned.

Organizations like NextGen Virginia have made a concerted effort to get more young people to the polls, whether that means a physical visit or casting an absentee ballot.

The progressive organization has registered 25,000 young voters so far, said Barrett Martin, media manager for NextGen Virginia.

In the first nine months of 2014, 41,648 voters under 25 registered to vote. This year, 79,451 voters under 25 years old registered to vote from January to September.

And while the organizations don’t keep numbers on how many students opt for absentee ballots, they’ve found some young voters on college campuses will choose to register at their home addresses so they can vote in more competitive races.

That’s been especially true at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech, Martin said. Both are in congressional districts that aren’t as competitive as other races.

At VCU, NextGen has encountered a number of students from the Richmond area who want to stay registered in the 7th District, which includes much of the city’s western and southwestern suburbs, to vote in the race between Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Brat and Democrat Abigail Spanberger.

The same has happened at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Martin said, where some voters want to stay registered in the 2nd District to vote in the contest between Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor and Democrat Elaine Luria.

Beyond competitive races, students from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads like to vote absentee to have a say in local contests, Martin said.

So far, NextGen Virginia has registered 1,849 students in the 2nd District; 2,111 in the 5th District; 1,372 in the 7th District and 2,184 in the 10th District.


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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.