Julie Dunkle started the program Youth Voter Movement with her son Michael. They decided to create this organization after the Parkland shooting in 2018 because they wanted to do something that would be positive and lasting in honor of all those students. The Youth Voter Movement is a California-based nonprofit that has registered almost 10,000 high school students to vote. As elections in Georgia come up, the Youth Voter Movement is set to serve high school students not only in the state of California, but nationwide. With early voting currently underway and the Georgia midterm election set for Nov. 8, it becomes more important than ever for youth to vote on the issues that matter most to not just them, but also their community.
Here is our VOX ATL Q&A with Youth Voter Movement co-founder Julie Dunkle. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
VOX ATL: Why do you think youth voter engagement is important?
Dunkle: Well, because the future of our democracy depends upon the people who vote and are active in civics. There’s research that says that if you vote at an early age, you tend to vote for the rest of your life. So the earlier one can get involved in voting, the more benefits that has across the lifespan of that individual. Also, I think youth have great ideas and will serve an influential role when discussing topics that pertain to the present day.
VOX ATL: What’s the best way to find the correct information about the candidates running for the election when we live in an area where there’s a lot of misinformation and bias in the media?
Dunkle: That’s definitely true. The League of Women Voters is an excellent organization to turn to. They put out candidate forums and pro/con forums. Then, whatever candidate is running for the office, whether that be mayor or state senator they put on forums so that the different candidates can speak. So, it’s typically a really good organization. Then, within your geographic area, there’s different opportunities. For example, in California, we have something called the Voter’s Edge. And you can go in and put in your address and you can get all kinds of non-partisan information about all the issues and races. So, different states have different programs like that.
VOX ATL: How do you think we can amplify the voices of those who are not represented in the elections? For example, in Georgia, those who are incarcerated cannot vote. Some immigrants also cannot vote. So, how do you think we can amplify their issues and what they’re fighting for?
Dunkle: There are many ways you can get involved in civics and shaping our democracy that don’t necessarily require voting. For example, if you feel strongly about an issue, you can work on a campaign for a candidate or a proposition and campaign for that issue. You can also work with nonprofits. For example, let’s say you’re pro-abortion or anti-abortion. Whichever way you fall, you can work for those organizations that support your views. Another way is by making sure with the forums and with the voter registration that we are always being inclusive of all communities. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a critical value that we need to present in everything we’re doing to shape our conversation.
VOX ATL: Do you think the age for voting should be higher, the same, or lower?
Dunkle: There are pros and cons for both. I personally would like the minimum voting age lowered for local elections that affect [young] people. For example, the local school board election or anything on a local level. That way you can be empowered to start getting involved at a younger age.
VOX ATL: What are the different factors that influence voting behavior?
Dunkle: Gender, class, socioeconomic conditions. There’s all kinds of factors. There’s exposure to education. Whether the media you are paying attention to is biased or reliable. Being a person of color. You name the factor, it probably influences, in both positive and negative ways.
VOX ATL: How can we improve youth voter engagement?
Dunkle: Getting youth involved in the process. Voter registration, for example, that is led by youth. Youth created presentations they give to their peers and youth teaching their peers on how to register. Involving them in the process, empowering them, and allowing them to share their passions with their peers is a good way to get the ball rolling.