Nevada Youth Vote on the Rise

Young people in Nevada are tired of being ignored by politicians and they're planning to make a splash at the polls this fall.

With issues like minimum wage, funding for education, and the legalization of marijuana potentially on the Nevada ballot this year, and close races at the local, state, and national levels, young Nevadans are ready to stand up and be counted on Election Day.

"I don't expect elected officials to be perfect or to do whatever I want, but I know that getting out to vote is the only way to get their attention" says Natalie Everett, a student at UNLV and an intern with the New Voters Project, a national nonpartisan group campaigning to increase the youth vote this year.

Natalie isn't the only young person expressing motivation this year. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at The Pew Charitable Trusts, 53% of young people say they have given "quite a lot of thought to the election." This is up from 35% when the same question was asked in 2000.

The New Voters Project is working to turn this higher level of interest into an actual and significant increase voter turnout among 18-24 year-olds this year. The group is using grassroots, peer-to-peer techniques to mobilize hundreds of thousands of young people, tens of thousands of them in Nevada. New Voters Project staff and volunteers have registered thousands of students on college and high school campuses across the state, and this summer they're canvassing events, public places, and everywhere young people go in Reno and Las Vegas.

As state director for Nevada, my goal is to make it as easy as possible for young people to register to vote, so our staff go to the places where they work, shop, and hang out. Sites like Las Vegas' Tower Records Superstore have been among the most successful.

Young Nevadans defy the myth that youth are simply lumped into the liberal category. Over and over again, we hear young people say that they're inspired to vote for the first time, and this sentiment spans the political spectrum. Whether they're graduating from high school and want more money for education and a higher minimum wage as they enter the work force, or they're working two jobs on The Strip and want to see lower taxes, young people clearly understand the impact that their vote can have on their own lives.

The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is an issue that motivates many young Nevadans across the board. The proposed facility, backed by President Bush but not by Nevada's U.S. Senators Reid (D) and Ensign (R), would be located 90 miles outside of Las Vegas. While many believe the facility is a danger to the health of the Southern Nevada community and environment, others believe it's perfectly safe and will help boost the economy, especially because of incentives offered to Nevada by the federal government.

The war in Iraq, though not a Nevada-specific issue, has many 18-24 year-olds talking. Young people have opinions about the war that range from total support and total opposition to absolute confusion. But young people understand that being at war has an incredible impact on their own lives. Almost half of all the military casualties in Iraq have been people aged 18 to 24 and so many of us know people who are involved with military service.

Young people are using issues like Yucca Mountain and minimum wage, and contests everywhere from the university system's Board of Regents all the way to the White House, to motivate their friends and neighbors to vote in record numbers. In 2000, just 31% of Nevada's 170,000 18-24 year-olds voted, and young people now are clearly saying that there will be no repeat performance this time around.

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