The Chippewa Valley, as a swing region in a battleground state, is expected to play a key role in this fall’s elections.
That’s why NextGen Wisconsin opened an office in Eau Claire this week as part of the progressive organization’s effort to register, engage and organize young voters across the state. The office, located in Building D2, Suite 407, of Banbury Place, is one of four NextGen offices in Wisconsin.
“This area is key to winning the rest of the state,” George Olufosoye, the group’s state director, said in Eau Claire. “We figured it’s super important to have our feet on the ground in the areas that are most important to us.”
NextGen Wisconsin, an affiliate of NextGen America, has a budget of $2.5 million and is aiming to have organizers across 35 college campuses, including UW-Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout in Menomonie, Olufosoye said.
The organization intends to ramp up its efforts to register and motivate young voters, especially on local college campuses, as students return for fall classes. It targets voters from age 18 to 35.
NextGen officials believe that voters in that age group are overwhelmingly progressive, so that coincides well with its focus on issues such as climate change, gun safety, health care access, racial justice, affordable education and LGBTQ rights.
After a drop-off in turnout among young voters in the 2016 election, NextGen is working hard to reverse that through text chains, phone banks, canvassing and special events, such as rallies it helped organize in Madison and Milwaukee with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and staff were killed Feb. 14 in a mass shooting.
“Young folks are super excited right now. With cost of student loan debt, health care and gun violence being a major issue for them, they see it as a time for them to take action, and we’re giving them the tools in order to do it,” Olufosoye said. “At this point in time you can’t keep young voters away from the polls.”
NextGen cited a recent study by TargetSmart showing that the youth share of new voter registrations in Wisconsin increased from 8.4 to 14.1 percent after Feb. 14 — the day of the Parkland school shooting, which spurred a youth-led movement to register young voters across the country. NextGen officials maintained the surge in registrations presages a potential increase in the impact of young voters in the upcoming midterm elections.
“As the largest eligible voting bloc, young people have the power to make the difference in critical races across the country, and it is clear that they are energized like never before to make their voices heard,” NextGen America executive director Heather Hargreaves said in a recent news release. “NextGen America has seen this passion firsthand and has already registered over 4,100 young people to vote in Wisconsin this year alone. We are organizing every day to ensure that young voters head to the polls in November and ultimately create long-lasting political power necessary for progressive change in our country.”
Already, the group’s efforts helped double turnout in the April state Supreme Court election in precincts heavily populated with UW-Madison students, Olufosoye said.
NextGen was founded in 2013 as NextGen Climate by businessman and philanthropist Tom Steyer.
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