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Long-term strategies unfold to energize young rural voters

One of the main issues young voters from rural areas want addressed is a lack of resources in their hometown school districts.

Long-term strategies unfold to energize young rural voters

June 7, 2024 12:59 PM CDT
By: Mike Moen / Public News Service

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WISCONSIN (Public News Service) – As the 2024 election inches closer, candidates and civic engagement organizers are likely to try and connect with younger voters but for college-age individuals from smaller towns, connections are few and far between.

The Rural Democracy Initiative said 63% of rural youth are infrequent or uncommitted voters and they are among the least contacted by both nonpartisan and political operations.

The organization is behind a new effort to strengthen civic engagement for this demographic. Wisconsin-based groups are doing similar work.

Political parties and voting outreach groups are closely watching to see if younger voters will be fully engaged when the fall election rolls around. Some organizers say this demographic is energized, but young adults from rural areas feel overlooked by outreach efforts. That’s prompting a sharpened focus in states such as Wisconsin.

Emma Frederick, northwest college organizer for Leaders Igniting Transformation, said rural college students from the western half of the state often feel overlooked.

“They note that this is the first time that anyone’s talked to them about voting,” Frederick explained. “While their parents might want to help or their parents don’t know themselves, this is a new experience for them.”

She pointed out one of the main issues young voters from rural areas want addressed is a lack of resources in their hometown school districts. They want to see future generations benefit from having more aid to cover things such as Advanced Placement courses. Nationally, the initiative said such voters also prioritize health care, economic well-being, reproductive rights and climate issues.

Crystal Egbo, northeast college organizer for the group, gets similar feedback on the lack of prior engagement with these students. She emphasized smaller communities are becoming more diverse and there are calls for cultural needs to be considered.

“They’re also asking for having more diverse representation on their (college’s) faculty and staff, having more diverse representation within local government and within community decision-makers,” Egbo added.

According to the initiative, 24% of rural residents are people of color and many are immigrants. It also contended young rural voters of color, who lean toward pro-democracy policies, are significantly underrepresented in elections.

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