Idaho's Young Voters: Energized or Disengaged? 

Organizers insist that young adult turnout is critical "Whoever wins, in the simplest terms, gets to define the real voice of Idaho, and define our politics for the upcoming years to come—it's as simple as that."

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College of Idaho

At least until voters actually cast a ballot, this year's midterm elections are all about expectations. And with high hopes for a robust turnout of young voters at the polls, it was no big stretch to expect a good-sized crowd of students on Oct. 2, when the College of Idaho hosted Democrat Paulette Jordan and Republican Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, both running for Idaho governor, in a rare appearance on the same stage. The hundreds of seats were quickly snapped up, and C of I's Langroise Recital Hall reached capacity a full 30 minutes before the forum got underway. But a quick survey of the hall revealed that less than a quarter of those in attendance were students, many of whom live just a few hundred feet away.

"Young adults just don't care about voting because they just don't see any benefits. Candidates don't talk about issues they're concerned about and students don't see how it could affect their lives," Dr. Jasper LiCalzi, chair of the college's Department of Political Economy and moderator for the forum, told Boise Weekly. "You need to show why it's meaningful—why they should care."

Right on point, both Jordan and Little made a concerted effort during the forum to zero in on a younger demographic.

"I want to create an atmosphere where our kids, our grandkids and children can prosper here in Idaho," said Little in his opening remarks.

"We have a lot of enthused young people who want to see where we're going with the future of our state," said Jordan.

"It's beneficial to me as a young voter because they're bringing things to light that I didn't already know about," College of Idaho senior Jesus Hernandez told BW.

But Hernandez's enthusiasm is the exception: According to a report in The Atlantic, only about a third of Americans ages 18 to 29 are "absolutely certain" that they'll vote in this year's midterms. That's in sharp contrast to other age groups. For example, 81 percent of seniors (age 65 and over) say they'll cast a vote.

That's reason enough for Treasure Valley student organizations to try and drum up interest in the election. At Boise State University, Political Science Association President Kennedy Gelnette said students should be "very tuned in" to the electoral process.

"There's a lot at stake, for BSU specifically, in this year's election because we've had the same governor in Idaho now for quite some time," said Gelnette, referring to soon-to-retire, four-term Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter. "We're severely underfunded in comparison to other state institutions."

At the College of Idaho, Sejko Muradbegovic, president of the Young Dems club, was even more plain-spoken.

"Whoever wins, in the simplest terms, gets to define the real voice of Idaho, and define our politics for the upcoming years to come—it's as simple as that," he said.

More than ever, college clubs like the Young Democrats and Republicans, and the Political Science Association, have been trying to mobilize students toward the polls. The presidents of each organization told BW that they're noticing increased political interest in their peers.

Ivy Smith, president of the Young Dems club at Boise State, enthused, "The blue is growing. We're no longer a small voice."

Even an increased number of younger Idahoans, including those not yet able to cast ballots, are engaged this fall. For example, 17-year-old Kielee Rustiei, a high schooler at the Idaho Virtual Academy, is interning this fall with the Paulette Jordan campaign. She said she's not alone in her enthusiasm.

"Generation Z is the next revolutionary generation," Rustiei told BW. "We are technology natives. We are smart enough to figure out the truth for ourselves at such a young age."

All that said, it comes down to casting a ballot, either through early voting or on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"If you don't vote, you're not changing anything." Pryse Robinson, the president of the Boise State Republican Club, told BW.

LiCalzi put it another way.

"You should vote because it's something you want to do—vote because it's part of being a part of our society," he said.


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