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NYPIRG’s Mission To Increase Youth Voter Turnout

Hunter students Anna Compton, Rahima Khatun and Joann Villacres volunteered with NYPIRG to help other students register to vote.
Photo by Grace Yeeun Song

Every election season, a group of students stand outside the cafeteria, screaming “Vote on Election Day! Your voice matters.” These students are members of New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit that educates young people about voting rights and city policies. 

On election day earlier this month Hunter students Anna Compton, Rahima Khatun and Joann Villacres volunteered with NYPIRG to help other students register to vote and find their nearest polling place. The election was for the city’s Public Advocate, District attorneys and policies affecting the city charter.  

When it comes to local elections, New York City has had one of the lowest youth voter turnout among all the major cities in the U.S., according to NYPIRG. In the 2017 mayoral election, for instance, only 13.5% of young voters (ages 18-24) turned out, according to NYC Campaign Financial Board. 

Young people tend to vote less because of their unpredictable daily schedules, according to Professor Jessica Hardie, a sociology professor at Hunter College. Research done by NYPIRG showed that voting turnout increases overall when voting is easier, which includes having time to vote, being close to a polling location, and having a well-staffed and not overburdened polling location. 

Young people are often juggling multiple time demands, including school, work and family responsibilities, and this can make getting to the polls more difficult,” said Hardie. “Another reason young people may not vote is that they may not like the candidates or see the issues as relevant to their lives.” 

Jason Chen, a 22-year-old student at Hunter studying computer science, is one of the students who didn’t go out to vote for the November’s general election because of these reasons. “To be honest, I didn’t even know it was election day. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have voted because I had class all day,” said Chen. “Also, I think the biggest problem is that most students aren’t really well-informed about what the vote is for or they just don’t care.” 

Compton, one of the NYPIRG interns who is a sophomore at Hunter, says this makes the work that NYPIRG interns do on CUNY campuses even more important. “Whenever there is an upcoming election, the other interns and I would visit classrooms and set up a desk outside the cafeteria to raise awareness about new policies and inform students about how these new policies can affect their lives,” said Compton. 

Whenever there’s an upcoming election, the NYPIRG interns set up a desk outside the cafeteria to raise awareness about new policies.
Photo by Grace Yeeun Song

It’s not unusual, however, for NYPIRG interns to be met met with either indifference or rejection by other students. Rahima Khatun, a freshman at Hunter, said that it is sad for her to see how some students can be so apathetic to local elections. “Local issues are as important, if not more, as national ones, because they’re the ones that impact students like us directly. People can complain about the MTA and Medicaid all they want but if they don’t go out to vote, nothing will change,” said Khatun. 

Despite the challenges that NYPIRG interns face, they have helped more than 1,000 students register to vote since the beginning of the semester. “By removing any possible barrier that prevents young voters from voting, we’re hoping that youth voter turnout in our city and in our nation overall increases,” said Compton.  

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