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Young Voters

Kabe Walker, local coordinator for NextGen Wisconsin, encourages students at Whitney Center on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus, to vote early. Volunteers and staffers from NextGen are working to registering young voters and getting them to turn out on Election Day.

Election day is still one week away, but NextGen Wisconsin staff and volunteers urged UW-L students to fill in their ballot bubbles in advance Tuesday, shuttling voters to City Hall throughout the day.

A branch of NextGen America, founded by billionaire philanthropist and liberal activist Tom Steyer and targeting progressive millennial voters, NextGen Wisconsin representatives have been a fixture on campus since August. After several weeks of registering voters, hosting trivia nights and recruiting volunteers, the organization held their One Week Out Day of Action in an effort to reach the last-minute registrants and tentative voters.

Two shuttles rented by NextGen made periodic stops to pick up students outside the Cartwright Center while Kade Walker, the onsite coordinator, manned a table with early voting information, voting pledge forms and volunteer sign up sheets in the Whitney Center.

“It’s nice to get those votes banked,” said Walker, who said the NextGen efforts would continue over the next six days. “We’re not slowing down one bit. We’re ramping up our campus presence and social media presence to remind students numerous times to vote.”

NextGen Wisconsin, operating on a $2.5 million investment from Steyer, has thus far pledged more than 48,000 Wisconsin millennials to vote, knocking on some 84,000 doors and remaining visible on campuses across the state. On Tuesday, volunteers canvassed the campus to direct individuals to the shuttles and pass out registration forms.

“We’re meeting voters where they’re at so we’re not missing anyone,” Walker said.

In the 2014 midterm election, only 23 percent of people 18 to 34 voted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A recently released Harvard IOP fall 2018 Youth Poll shows 54 percent of Democrats age 18 to 29 intend to vote in the upcoming election, up 24 percent from the number who said they planned to vote in 2014. The numbers keep Walker hopeful despite a close gubernatorial race, and he credits the increase to the passion of young voters to take back the House from Republicans.

“This is not the same as 2014 — the news has been showing a lot of horrible things, but some hopeful things too,” Walker said, noting many students seem particularly concerned about the cost of higher education. “Quite frankly, Scott Walker did a lot of damage here with his education cuts.”

Freshman and first-time voter Courtney Pagnucci, 18, said education issues are her motivation to vote, as many of her relatives are in the teaching profession. Fellow freshman Sydney Friedle, 18, cited women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights, and gun control among her priorities. Friedle voted two weeks ago, wanting to make sure her vote was “sent in effectively and goes where it needs to go.” Signing up to help NextGen reach her classmates and neighbors in the last few days till the election, she praised the organization’s campus presence and shared her excitement for casting her first ballot.

“It’s awesome. The last election, I wasn’t old enough and that was a big one I wanted to participate in,” Friedle said. “I’m hoping things turn out the way things need to be. I’m a little nervous but I’m excited for the results.”

“We’re not slowing down one bit. We’re ramping up our campus presence and social media presence to remind students numerous times to vote.” Kade Walker, onsite coordinator for NextGen Wisconsin

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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