Youth POV: Getting Out The Vote is Hard, but Necessary

Nov. 5, 2016 / By

Above: Long Beach youth groups and residents prepare to get out the vote.

With only a few days left until the November 8th elections, some people are still undecided on who to vote for and whether they will vote at all. Many voters are also uninformed about the many propositions on the ballot. With 17 different statewide propositions, it is no wonder why there is confusion.

Last week, I decided to canvass and phone bank throughout Long Beach as a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) youth volunteer with Californians for Justice and Every Student Matters. Our role was to inform registered voters about Propositions 55 and 57 and get people to the polls.

Prop. 55 determines whether the state should keep the higher tax rate on people within the top two percent income bracket to support schools and local businesses. If passed, it would benefit our schools a lot, especially my school.

We do not have the materials we need to learn. We are missing textbooks for many classrooms including my AP classes. Our computers are too old and take forever to turn on. We do not have a full-time nurse. Whenever someone actually needs her, she is not there. Prop. 55 would provide funds that can help our schools fix these problems.

Prop. 57 is a criminal justice reform that allows a juvenile court judge to decide whether or not a youth should be prosecuted as an adult, among other important provisions. Prop. 57 can help to decriminalize youth and give them a second chance.

Everyone does not make good choices when they are young, but people of color are disproportionally criminalized more than white people. I think all youth should be put on a pathway to opportunity and encouraged to go to college rather than be put through the school-to-prison pipeline.

These are the concerns and hopes I shared with my community, urging them to hear me out and cast a ballot Tuesday. Although I thought it would be a relatively easy task, I was surprised with how challenging canvassing was. Walking around and talking to voters for two hours might seem like great exercise and a great way to do civic engagement, but it was a tiresome activity with seemingly little success. I soon realized that canvassing voters has its downs and ups.

I had experience canvassing the previous year, so I was paired with a partner to provide support while canvassing the neighborhood around Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Although I live relatively close to this area, it was the first time I had ever walked through these streets. The neighborhood seemed to be very diverse, but it is described as a rough area facing many challenges.

But that did not affect my motivation.  I was excited to have my voice heard as a 17-year-old who is not yet able to vote. I had my script ready to go and very enthusiastically walked to my first house and knocked.

The residents were not home. This was a bad start but I did not let it affect the rest of the day. I went towards my next few houses and to my surprise…

They were not home either.

It seemed that the whole neighborhood had decided to go on a vacation together that Saturday. It took a while but eventually I came across someone who was home and got to inform them about the propositions. The father I talked to had no clue how the measures could affect them and their family. Sadly he was one of the only voters I got to talk to that day.

From then on, the rest of the voters were either not home, did not live there anymore, or I was not able to get through their gate to talk to them. When someone was home, they quickly said they were not interested or “no thank you.”

By the time my canvassing time was over, I had realized why so many people were uninformed about the ballot measures. It is really difficult to do outreach to voters in the community.

I had better luck phone banking voters on a weekday. With around 50 calls total in an hour, I was able to speak with 10 people. Most of them turned out to be really interested in learning about the propositions.

When I first picked up the phone, I wasn’t as motivated because of my experience going door to door.  My attitude quickly changed when I did not have to wait long before someone picked up. It was a fast but informative conversation, which was the case for most of the calls.

Only one call was kinda shaky. The woman on the phone clearly seemed tired of receiving different calls about the election. Although she refused to talk to me, it seemed that she was already informed about what she could vote for.

Phone banking was definitely the quickest and easiest way to talk to voters. Although it can be more personal talking face to face, the same information gets across either way.

These experiences really made me understand how difficult it can be for both volunteers and voters. This might be why some decide not to vote at all.

For other youth GOTV organizers, do not get discouraged. It might be a long day but even reaching out to one person can make a big difference. For example, in 2014, the Long Beach Unified School Board race for the first district was decided by a mere difference of 165 votes. That same year, Mayor Robert Garcia won his seat to represent a city of over 400,000 by a margin of 2,145 votes.

It matters.

Whether it’s phone banking or canvassing, it’s important inform voters and most importantly, get them to go out to vote November 8th.

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Sandy Garcia

A Latina living in Long Beach for almost all of her life, Sandy is dually-enrolled at Renaissance High School for the Arts and Long Beach City College. She has interned with Californians for Justice and organizes with the Every Student Matters Campaign to better her community.