In the home stretch to Tuesday’s midterm election, political groups in Durango are pressing hard on young people to vote because they are the least likely to participate in elections.
“They are not tuned in to our democratic process,” said Democratic party volunteer Carol Shepard.
Millennials are the single largest voting bloc in the U.S., but it is unknown whether they will turn out in large numbers, said Paul DeBell, a political science assistant professor at Fort Lewis College.
The congressional hearings before the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh may have galvanized some young voters, DeBell said.
“I hope that young people will be out in higher numbers,” he said.
La Plata County Democrats and New Era Colorado Foundation were among groups that registered hundreds of people ahead of Tuesday’s election and have spent many weeks at FLC urging students to cast their ballots.
Shepard said she focused her outreach efforts at FLC because of historically low voter participation among 18-to-24-year-olds.
Republicans have worked to reach young voters through social media, said Jim Harper, vice chairman for the La Plata County Central Republican Committee. Young Republicans can be shy about identifying themselves in public because they can face social backlash in liberal-leaning Durango, he said.
Since July, the number of registered voters in La Plata County has increased by 2,204, including 783 voters younger than 25 years old, according the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Of the young voters, 411 registered as unaffiliated, 244 registered as Democrats, 93 registered as Republicans and the remaining registered with minor parties.
In February, there were 43,993 registered voters in La Plata County, including 4,982 voters younger than 25, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The young voters registered in February included 2,408 unaffiliated, 1,398 Democrats and 991 Republicans voters.
After registration drives leading up to this year’s election, there are now 46,082 active and inactive voters in La Plata County.
Democratic party volunteers provided campaign and ballot issue literature to students at FLC this past week, and they also collected completed ballots that they will drop off at official polling places, said volunteer Laura Godfrey.
A sign at the La Plata County Democrats’ booth on campus on Thursday proclaimed: “Old people are winning in Colorado,” and listed voter turnout among those younger than 25 as 41,076 statewide as of Oct. 30, far below other age groups. By Friday morning, 58,739 Colorado residents younger than 25 had voted.
FLC sophomore Folsom Smith said he voted for the first time in this midterm election after encouragement from his friends.
“They all told me that young people don’t vote and we should,” said Smith, a Libertarian.
Angel Curley, 18, also voted for the first time this year after seeing a post on Instagram that had a historical reference to how people of color were often deterred from voting by being lynched, she said. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped begin to break down barriers for people of color.
“It was so hard for them, and now we have that right,” said Curley, who is a member of the Navajo Nation.
As of Friday morning, 15,673, or 34 percent of the 46,082 active and inactive voters in La Plata County, had turned in ballots, said Tiffany Parker, La Plata County clerk and recorder. In 2014, during the last midterm election, about 15,988 voters had cast their ballots by Friday before the election, she said.
Ballots returned by party affiliation as of Friday in La Plata County included 5,959 Democrats, 4,991 Republicans and 4,499 unaffiliated voters. Voters affiliated with other parties turned in 224 ballots, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Parker said she expects this year’s voter turnout will be similar to 2014 when 54 percent of the registered voters participated. Voter service centers and drop-off locations are expected to be busy Monday and Tuesday with last-minute voters, she said.
Historically, whatever party does not control the White House has a strong showing during midterm elections, said DeBell, the FLC professor.
However, Democrats are less likely to participate in midterm elections because they tend to have lower incomes and fewer resources, which predicts lower participation in elections, he added.
Harper, of the local Republican Party, said President Donald Trump has energized Republicans because of a low unemployment rate and strong economy.
“Conservatives have someone at the helm that they truly believe in,” he said.