Introducing Common Cause’s Alliance for Emerging Power, A Coalition of Future Leaders Our Democracy Needs
From our founding in 1970 through today, a core principle of Common Cause is that as more eligible Americans participate, our democracy becomes stronger. In 1971, Common Cause embarked on a journey to support young people by successfully advocating to lower the voting age from 21 to 18-years-old. Lowering the voting age to 18 was critical at that time because young people were getting drafted for a war that many didn’t believe in but couldn’t vote their conscience on the matter. Voting is one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to influencing policy but some who make policies are constantly trying to take that tool away from the people.
Long early voting periods, polling sites at college campuses, and civic engagement enters at college campuses makes voting more accessible to young people. While these reforms are effective in increasing youth voter turnout, they are now getting rolled back by some states. In 2022 alone there were over 250 bills designed to restrict access to voting. These laws disproportionately impact young people, especially young people of color’s access to voting.
Young people constantly have to navigate difficult voting laws and numerous websites to get accurate information. Even during the current primary elections, young people are facing difficulty voting, one example is that many may be away from campus and not in the state where they originally registered to vote. Since vote by mail laws vary by state and are not always the easiest to understand, simply determining the correct rules is an added layer of difficulty.
Additionally, many states have voter ID laws that do not allow students to use their campus ID and there isn’t always a free ID option available to them, even though they are eligible registered voters. Accurate information that explains how a student can vote and obtain an accepted ID (especially when they are away for summer break) is limited. The lack of information means that many young people may miss voting in the current midterm primary or that their vote may not count.
These obstacles are just a few that young people face every year but what is encouraging is that young people still find unique ways to advocate for change beyond the ballot box. Common Cause youth members have engaged in the political process on social media and in public meetings, speaking up against partisan redistricting efforts, advocating for expanding voting access, giving their perspective on what community safety really means to them, and much more. And young people are inspiring their friends and family members to vote. Young people are stepping up and growing into the leaders that we need. In a recent study, “27% compared with 5% in 2016, of young adults indicated that they had participated in street protests, and more than half responded that they had actively worked to encourage their peers to vote.”
As we see Millennials and Generation Z speak up for their rights and for policy change, Common Cause is expanding our youth work to deepen our relationships with young people and communities where we currently have democracy fellows and to be intentional about including all young people — including those who are not students. Our Democracy Fellowship includes students from 20 campuses and they organize their campus to increase voter turnout, civic engagement, and advocacy. The Alliance for Emerging Power – Common Cause’s internship program, democracy fellowship, election protection fellowship, and youth policy program – works for all young people who are searching for a way to use their power and voice to advocate for change. We believe that these opportunities should not be limited to those who are in college or have a college degree. It is important that young people, no matter where they are, academically, geographically, or economically, have access to accurate, nonpartisan information to make informed political decisions and have ways to engage in the political process.
Common Cause has built a network of over 3,000 politically engaged young people through our outreach and programming, some of whom are now running for office, managing electoral campaigns, or leading nonprofit organizations. Our network is advocating for policy change on all levels, continuing their civic education, and working alongside Common Cause for democracy reform.
This summer we will release our second edition of Writing for a Just World and launch a program to help include more youth voices in public civic discourse. In the fall will host our 16th cohort of Democracy Fellows, which now include Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia. Most importantly we are investing in the leadership and development of young people through paid opportunities and trainings by way of webinars, fellowships, and internships.