Get Out the Vote efforts target young voters and students


Students and student groups across campus have been working throughout the fall semester to get Virginians, particularly students, to vote in the 2020 election on national and local issues.

Graduate student Richard Catherina spent his summer and fall semester working as a digital fellow for the Virginia Coordinated Campaign. The Virginia Coordinated Campaign’s goal was to elect Democrats throughout Virginia and has supported the campaigns of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Senator Mark Warner and other local candidates such as Representative Jennifer Wexton.

Similarly, junior Government and International Politics major Jack Houston has worked on the FairMapsVA campaign and the RepresentVirginia campaign this election cycle. He described his main responsibility in this year’s campaign cycle as trying to pass Virginia’s redistricting amendment, Amendment 1, as well as informing voters on the amendment.

“Most of our work was focused on educating the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who didn’t know what gerrymandering was or who didn’t know that the amendment was even on the ballot,” Houston said. “Later on in the campaign, opposition to the amendment developed and we had to work harder to convince voters that Amendment 1 is necessary to fight gerrymandering in Virginia.”

Due to COVID-19, campaigns have used digital methods to encourage people to vote and to share important information about the candidates, and other issues on the ballot, such as Amendment 1. 

Houston explained that his primary job with FairMapsVA was canvassing, or reaching potential voters. 

“This worked primarily through text-banking and communicating with friends, family and coworkers. I personally sent around 21,000 texts to registered voters in Virginia with the goal of educating them about the amendment,” Houston said. 

Catherina also worked to contact voters through phone banking and text banking. New methods such as direct message banking have been implemented to digitally reach a younger demographic.

Catherina explained the methodology behind direct message banking, highlighting young voters’ tendencies for social media use. 

“Because young people use social media a lot, social media posts are important for reaching us,” he said. “Most of us do not bother listening to news on the radio; very few of us sit down to watch the news on television. We get our information through news sources that we follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is the perfect medium to reach Millennials and Gen Z voters who may not know, for example, how to register to vote in their state or how to vote early or where to find their polling place.”

President of Mason Democrats Erica Kelly explained that her organization was participating in similar efforts to get Mason students and young people out to vote. 

“We had two interns focused on social media outreach, making sure we had an active presence on freshman Facebook pages and similar things, and our field interns were spending at least 10 hours every single week calling and texting voters — sometimes they were students, sometimes they were not. Just making sure that we are doing our part to have this election to turn out the way we want to,” Kelly said. 

The primary goal for RepresentVirginia and FairMapsVA, Houston explained, was to push anti-corruption policies in Virginia, some of which happened through social media promotion.

“We worked to recruit volunteers and sent a lot of individual FairMaps to help them in their efforts,” Houston said. “We also used our own social media to advocate for the amendment. Additionally, we developed our own strategy to retain volunteers throughout the campaign.”

The biggest obstacle, though, is that traditionally young people do not turn out to vote, at least not in large numbers. In the 2018 midterm elections, only about 36 percent of voters between the ages of 18-20 turned out to vote. But young people could wield significant political power, as Millennials and Generation Z comprise 37 percent of eligible voters.

Catherina believes that young people can decide the election and pave the way for Biden to win the presidency, as young voters traditionally lean Democratic. 

“We can decide this election,” Catherina said. “Our turnout is traditionally low, but as Joe Biden said, we are the most educated and least prejudiced generation in this country’s history. If we turn out in high enough numbers, this election will be ours. It’s time to stop saying we are ‘the future of this country.’ We are not the future of this country; we are the today of this country. Now we just need to exercise our power where it counts.”

Catherina explained that this election is particularly important for young voters, as it revolves around issues that will dramatically impact young people, such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This election is extremely important and has long-term ramifications for [Mason] students and for all young voters,” he said. “Most of us are doing college entirely virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We need to get this under control, and Donald Trump has shown that he is maliciously indifferent to those suffering from the pandemic,” he continued. “A lot of my generation’s priorities are on the ballot. Issues like climate change and systemic racism are on the ballot, and there is one person who will move in the direction that we want, and that’s Joe Biden.”

Houston shared that Virginian voters need to prioritize anti-corruption laws in order to get meaningful laws passed. 

“Historically, Virginia has often been the victim of gerrymandering,” Houston said. “Once the Amendment passed, I felt that I personally needed to help it get passed, especially once opposition and misinformation began to form.”

Catherina explained that he feels good about Biden’s, and other Democrats’, chances in Virginia and nationally. 

“Nationally, I feel good about Joe Biden’s chances,” he continued. “If he keeps all the states Hillary won in 2016, and flips Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, he is one electoral vote from victory. But I remember 2016, and I’m cautious in my optimism. There are so many moving parts, between the courts, the USPS, rules on mail-in ballots and voter suppression, that this election could go a different way if Democrats don’t get the necessary turnout. Or the polls could be wrong. Regardless, the most important thing to do now is make sure Democrats turn out on Nov. 3.”