RICHMOND, Va. — Political activists pushed hard towards Monday’s deadline, the last day Virginia voters can register for the November 6 election.
“We’re following up with everyone who registered to vote through our organization,” said Meredith Speet, a volunteer for the progressive political organization NextGen America, which is working to get voters registered and to the polls. “On Election Day, we’ll send out another message reminding them where to vote and how to find their polling place.”
Virginians have until the end of Monday, October 15, to register to vote and can do so online through the Department of Elections.
While voter registration numbers in Virginia have remained consistent with previous years, activists shifted their focus towards voter turnout in this fall’s congressional midterm elections.
“To stand back and let the world take whatever course it takes and say, ‘It’s not my fault, I had nothing to do with it,’ and then be outraged when it affects you is not only selfish, but blatantly irresponsible,” Richmond voter resident Bailey Haase said.
Some younger voters, especially college students, are shifting away from the use of absentee ballots and activists are pushing students to register to vote in local communities.
“It’s really important that as VCU students we’re mindful of the community that we’re integrated in,” Madeline Doane, with the Campus Vote Project, said.
Peyton Nugent, a student from New Jersey, has applied for absentee ballots in the past, but has recently decided to vote in Richmond. Last year, Nugent’s roommate never received her absentee ballot.
“She was registered to vote, but lost her right to vote because they didn’t send her a ballot,” said Nugent. “I don’t want to take that risk.”
But registering to vote is only the first step of the process. During the 2016 presidential election, 72 percent of registered voters in Virginia cast a ballot, but during the 2017 off-year election, it were only 47.6 percent, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
The decline in voter turnout is expected between presidential elections and off-year elections, but activists, community leaders, and even some businesses are working to promote civic engagement for the midterm elections this fall.
“It’s estimated that 15 million people were registered, but didn’t vote in 2016 due to transportation issues,” wrote on-demand transportation company Lyft in an August blog. “That’s why we’re committed to providing 50 percent off rides across the country.”
After the 2016 election, 38 percent of people of color from ages 18-29 cited transportation concerns as a factor in why they didn’t vote, according to a study done by Tufts University. For white youth, 27 percent listed transportation as an issue.
Public transportation systems are also trying to combat this problem. In a Richmond City Council meeting, an ordinance was introduced that would make rides on the GRTC transportation system free on Election Day.
“We want to increase access to the ballot box by removing the barrier of transportation,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a YouTube announcement about the ordinance. The ordinance has the potential to promote turnout in areas that would not normally produce high voting rates.
“It’s a great way to get people to vote,” said GRTC rider Taylor Mickel. “A lot of people, especially older people, don’t have rides. I think it should be publicized a little bit more.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.