Harnessing the Power of the Youth Vote

PA Youth Vote student ambassadors Savannah Sandhaus, Neematallah Yusuf, and Samantha Sandhaus (left to right) speaking with local government and media officials about the need for youth civic engagement | Sam Searles, WHYY
PA Youth Vote student ambassadors Savannah Sandhaus, Neematallah Yusuf, and Samantha Sandhaus (left to right) speaking with local government and media officials about the need for youth civic engagement | Sam Searles, WHYY

In the 2020 election, Pennsylvania was one of the most important states in Biden’s victory. The state’s close call result—a mere 1% over Trump—was greatly impacted by Pennsylvania’s young voters. President Biden received an overwhelming amount of support from counties across PA with higher youth populations, especially in counties with large populations of young people of color. Thus, the youth of America tipped the scale of national democracy in the 2020 presidential election. 

Young voters continue to have an important stake in social issues, especially on a local scale. CIRCLE found that in 2022, two in five youth were more inclined to vote because of the 2022 Dobbs v Jackson decision, which ended national abortion security. This opinion from young people shows that young people were outraged that nine justices (whom they don’t really elect) have the power over their bodies, so they look to other legislative functions that they can control to make a difference.

Research done by Harvard University shows that 3 in 5 people under 30 support the fight for stricter gun laws, and with this strong gun reform mindset, intend to vote for leaders who align with their views in the upcoming elections. 

As Pitt Vote states, PA is the number one state that is impacted by youth vote, confirming that civic participation by the young population is critical in major political decisions and in enforcing the democratic structure of the US. 

Currently, voter education is not enforced in the school curriculum throughout  Philly. Because of this, many young people are unaware of the power and importance their vote has, especially in local elections, which have the most impact on our daily lives.

The scariest part is that this situation is not an accident. If young people are not encouraged or educated properly about how to participate in democracy, the power remains in the hands of those who benefit most from the status quo and thus don’t want to change it.

While America claims to be a representative democracy that gives power to the people, there is no universal voter education system to inform young people on how to participate. The Philadelphia Inquirer found that even though youth voter turnout increased in the 2022 midterm election, this increase was predominantly in “wealthier, predominantly white areas,” while predominantly Black and Latino areas continued to decrease.

This situation demonstrates that even though Philadelphia is free from explicit voter suppression laws, lack of access to voter education cultivates ignorance and distrust among young people, especially people of color, which prevents them from voting. 

Obviously, legislation is not the complete nor final solution to achieving social justice. It is only with enforcement from activists that such legislation takes effect. Across Philadelphia, the fight for justice is often youth-led. However, without laws to secure the progress of activists, their right to demand change will not be protected.

If we, the youth of America, do not fight for universal voter education, and thus a place for our voices to be heard in major decisions the government implements, there will be millions of young people who will live their lives unaware of the potential and power they have to impact the fight for justice. 

There is a youth-led movement making its way across Philadelphia to ensure civic education for all youth in the city. PA Youth Vote, a statewide nonprofit organization, works to make voter education and civic engagement more accessible to students across Philadelphia.

Taking the critical matter of voter registration into their own hands, PA Youth Vote high school students register eligible students to vote, making the process significantly easier and more understandable for those without the knowledge to go about registering.

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Student representatives of the program voice their opinions and demands at meetings with local government officials and Philadelphia district school board meetings each month. They advocate for the implementation of the Voter Champion Program, a voter curriculum that teaches young people the process of civic engagement.

The program has been approved but not yet implemented or enforced at the city level. Student activists across Philadelphia use PA Youth Vote as a vehicle through which they can demand universal accessibility to voter education and empower their peers to join their fight. 

Want to get involved?  Join PA Youth Vote and support their mission in getting Philly youth civically engaged or even start a chapter at your school! Get some peers and a sponsor, and establish a voter education program in your very own school community; nothing is stopping you from using your voice.


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