How Year-round, Youth Organizing Pays off on Election Day

Light blue background with image of blue wave, an American flag and the word "VOTE" laid over a ballot box and someone inserting their ballot into the box, a black and white image of two people handing each other a box filled with water bottles and a bag of snacks, a black and white image of someone holding their passport and a black and white image of Michigan's Proposal 2.

With less than two weeks until Election Day of 2022, my colleague and I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada. We supported the Asian Community Development Council (ACDC) and One APIA Nevada as part of our organization’s on-the-ground, get-out-the-vote efforts in nine states during the last two weeks of October. After one short week with the ACDC and One APIA Nevada teams, it became evident that it wasn’t just knocking on doors and tabling events that were key to their electoral success. 

Throughout the year, ACDC provides services to the community, like distributing meals and helping people apply for citizenship, and One APIA Nevada fights for critical progressive legislation, in areas such as health equity, voting rights and comprehensive immigration reform. This is what local youth organizing 365 days a year should look like: seeing young people beyond being just a voting bloc. It is this local organizing and year-round care of the Asian community by Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander organizers that helped incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) survive a challenge, defeat Republican Adam Laxalt and hold onto the U.S. Senate. 

Local youth-led organizations that show up day in and day out — and not just in the run up to elections — to care for their communities are instrumental in connecting voting to issues that directly impact people’s daily lives. They see the act of voting as key to changing lives and futures, and use their organizing power to turn voters out in droves. It’s how groups like ACDC and One APIA Nevada helped mobilize the second-highest youth voter turnout in a midterm election in the last three decades. 

Author adrienne maree brown defines political home as “a place where we ideate, practice and build futures we believe in, finding alignment with those we are in accountable relationships with, and growing that alignment through organizing and education.” The local youth-led organizations do just that: create spaces where young people learn how to organize, become life-long civic learners, focus on policy issues and address people’s day-to-day needs. Through political homes, young people have been able to make significant changes locally and, when Election Day rolls around, fight for their values at the ballot box. 

In this midterm election, young people elected Democrats and rejected election deniers backed by former President Donald Trump, despite barriers to the ballot box.

Minnesota Youth Collective and New Era Colorado, according to Teen Vogue, lead with issues rather than voter registration to engage young people civically. Minnesota Youth Collective has a neighborhood-by-neighborhood organizing program targeting youth dense areas in Minneapolis where organizers talked to young people about what they’d like to see changed about where they live. Minnesota Youth Collective has also expanded beyond electoral organizing by turning its office into a mutual aid hub after police murdered George Floyd in 2020. This community care work and emphasis on substantive issues was an important foundation when it came time to turn out young voters for the 2022 midterm elections, which contributed to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s (D) narrow win. 

New Era Colorado created a platform shaped by young Coloradans that included climate justice, reproductive rights, higher education and student debt, democracy reform, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights and more. New Era’s commitment to issues that matter to young Coloradans made the group a trusted messenger, turning out 60% of its base in the 2022 midterm elections, boosting Rep.-elect Yadira Caraveo (D) in Colorado’s competitive 8th Congressional District. Statewide, Coloradans passed key ballot measures on housing and free healthy school meals. 

Relational organizing — mobilizing personal contacts within a volunteer’s network — was also key to electoral success for the Alliance Network, a federated network which includes youth-led organizations like Minnesota Youth Collective, New Era Colorado and more. The Ohio Student Association recruited over a thousand volunteers to participate in its relational organizing program, and, through that program, volunteers reached out to over 20,000 friends and family to encourage them to vote. The power of these connections propelled Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman to defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) in the midterm election, ousting the 26-year incumbent by five points. 

North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT) and NCAAT in Action used relational organizing to spur conversations with thousands of Asian Americans across the state to get them to the polls. Using phone calls, text messages and door canvassing tactics, NCAAT reached out to over 100,000 Asian American voters. As a result, analysis of early voting showed over 35,000 AAPIs cast their ballots early in North Carolina, a 66% increase from 2018 and seven times more early votes compared to the 2014 midterms. Additionally, AAPI youth turnout was four percentage points higher than non-AAPI voters. 

Local youth organizing also resulted in voting rights wins to protect our democracy. Detroit Action helped Michigan voters pass Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to establish early voting, pre-empt efforts to enact stricter voter ID rules and expand access to absentee voting. Next Up saw big wins in Portland, Oregon this year after young voters helped pass significant reforms, including establishing city-wide ranked choice voting and implementing a mayor and city administrator. Earlier this year, Forward Montana fought hard in the courts for Election Day registration and won. This led to many more young Montanans utilizing this convenient opportunity to cast their ballots on Election Day.

In this midterm election, young people elected Democrats and rejected election deniers backed by former President Donald Trump, despite barriers to the ballot box. And across 18 states in the Alliance Network, youth organizers turned out young voters, leading to incredible victories that will create a better future for all of us — a future where the youth vote will continue to be the deciding factor in our elections and should not be taken for granted.

Carmel Pryor is the senior director of communications at the Alliance for Youth Action. 

This piece is part of Democracy Docket’s How We Won series, which features op-eds from candidates and organizations that answer the question: How did you win in the 2022 midterm elections and what does this victory mean for democracy?