Julián Castro is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The College Democrats of America held its annual convention from July 22-25 at the University of the District of Columbia. Dozens of delegates representing various colleges and universities from around the country attended workshops and plenary sessions.
Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to get young people involved in the political process, said she understands why young people don’t participate in politics heavily.
“You are the millennial generation,” Spillane said, speaking about the huge group of Americans born roughly from 1980-2000. “Millennials like to get things done and in politics things can really be slow at times and that can be frustrating for young people. We need you involved because in 2016, there will be 20 million more millennials than Baby Boomers that will eligible to vote and that will make a difference in the presidential election.”
The power of the millennial vote was shown in 2012. The Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University did an analysis of the 2012 presidential election and it showed that President Obama won the youth vote, defined as voters aged 18-29, with 67 percent as opposed to his Republican Party opponent, Mitt Romney, who got only 30 percent.
The 2012 analysis said the youth vote provided the difference for Obama in swing states such as Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The president won at least 61 percent of the youth vote in those states.
However, it was a different story in 2014. The Center for Research and Information did an analysis on the 2014 midterm elections and found that only 21.5 percent of young people voted as opposed to 45 percent in 2012. The 2014 analysis showed that young people favored Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and they backed Democratic hopefuls for the U.S. Senate.
Spillane said college-aged citizens are not in tune with the current system of voting. “We have an antiquated system,” she said. “Registering to vote is an arduous process for some young people because you have to manually fill out an application and mail it in or take it by the courthouse in many states. Young people want online registration which is quicker and tends to be more efficient.”
Spillane said that many states make it difficult for young people to participate in the political process. “There are many states where a college identification is not good enough to cast a ballot,” Spillane said, referencing states like Texas and North Carolina. “Also, some state legislatures put college campuses voting precincts with residential precincts and that is done to dilute the college vote. What should be done is that college precincts should be left intact.”
The conference included speakers such as U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and Obama Cabinet members U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.
Castro told the young Democrats that the nation needs their leadership. “I hope that all of you go into public service,” Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, said. “We need people who are getting into politics for the right reasons. He added, “The events of Ferguson, the shootings in South Carolina, and what happened to Sandra Bland in Texas make you realize that some things change and yet something things stay the same.”
“You must learn and respect the past,” Castro said, “and move forward in a positive direction.”
Political observers say that Castro is on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s short list of vice presidential prospects.
He downplayed that speculation, saying that “I’m focused on what I’m doing now and what happens in the future will happen.”
The convention didn’t come up with an organization strategy to get the vote out in 2016. However, it did motivate individuals to think in that direction.
Deshawn Jamison will be a sophomore this Fall at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick, Georgia, and was inspired by the convention. He said he knows how to get young Blacks to the polls to vote in 2016.
“Young Black people will look up to and listen to people who look like us and are authentic,” Jamison said. “We don’t need rappers and superstar athletes to tell us how to vote. We need people who are involved in politics to talk to us and encourage us to get involved.”
Jamison said that he will run for political office someday and that the convention only heightened his sense of obtaining that goal. “I want to be in politics so that I can be a champion for the people,” he said.