Kumar: Thankful for voter turnout

2018 may have felt like a rough year in politics but voter turnout and youth mobilization are things both sides of the aisle can be thankful for.


Megan Nagorzanski

Voters wait to vote at the University of Iowa Library.

Michelle Kumar , Opinion Columnist

2018 has dragged on for what feels like much longer than necessary, but it’s finally November, and the year is winding down. Typically, around this time of year, many of us gather around with those we love and recount what we are thankful for. Even though it can be hard to be positive when it comes to politics, and by no means is the fight for our country over, both parties have a lot to be thankful for. Whether it’s the overhaul of the tax code or keeping the Affordable Care Act in place, respectively, Republicans and Democrats alike have the biggest joint victory of all: record turnouts for the midterm elections, especially with the youth vote.

From both sides of the aisle, the push to vote leading up to midterms was outstanding. For once, voting wasn’t a partisan issue but a cause to rally around and unite us. Of course, there were ulterior and conflicting motives behind the effort, but the effort itself was largely nonpartisan.

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Honestly, it paid off. The Associated Press reported that roughly 113 million people voted in the 2018 midterm elections. This will be the highest turnout total for a nonpresidential election in the last 50 years. These numbers are impressive, given that large portions of people were purged from registrations between 2014 and 2016. There were also numerous concerns across the country regarding voter suppression.

The best part of this outcome has to be the youth turnout, because young people are notoriously bad at showing up to the polls regardless of the kind of election. Among celebrity encouragement, campus voter-registration drives, and increased efforts by political organizations, the youth vote skyrocketed. Based on exit polls, voters from the ages of 18 to 29 made up about 13 percent of the overall turnout. Leading up to this election, overnight, it became cool to vote. Taking pride in your civic duty and wearing your “I Voted” sticker was all the rage on Nov. 6.

Here on the University of Iowa campus, every effort was made to “Hawk the Vote,” and it worked. Precincts 3 and 5 in Iowa City largely comprise on-campus students and a small number of off-campus students. In the 2014 midterms, only 499 people voted in Precinct 3, and only 575 people voted in Precinct 5. This year, Precinct 3 notched 778 voters and Precinct 5 901. That’s around a 56 percent increase in both precincts.

UISG Sen. Jocelyn Roof, the chair of the Governmental Relations Committee, was one of the two leaders of the “Hawk the Vote” initiative. What started out as a small plan for voter registration manifested into the collaborative effort found on campus this year. UISG joined with other campus organizations, residence halls, and community stakeholders to create the most efficient registration drive possible. A few of the initiative’s goals were to disseminate information and increase accessibility to increase voter registration and turnout.

With plans to expand the initiative to off-campus housing and coordinate with other in-state schools for the next election, keeping the excitement and voting culture going to 2020 is the main focus now. The incredible turnout this year has increased civic engagement across the board. We need to be thankful for these results and take this political bright spot and manifest it into continued civic engagement and advocacy. Maybe in 2020, almost all eligible voters will participate if we can keep the energy going.