Written by: Zach Reinhardt, YP Council Talent Retention Chair
On February 14, I joined the race for the District 4 seat on the Metro Community College Board of Governors. Now, before you stop reading, let me assure you that this is not a campaign advertisement, on the contrary, it is a call to action for young professionals. You see, I decided to run for office for several reasons, not the least of which is my fervent belief that it is crucial for citizens to be actively involved in the civic process. Unfortunately, many young professionals don’t take advantage of the opportunity to get involved. Take the simple act of voting as an example. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, in the 2018 midterm election, just over 35% of registered voters, between the ages of 18 and 29, voted, up from the 19% of voters in the same demographic that voted in the 2014 midterm election. While the improvement is noteworthy, and cause for some optimism, there is still room for improvement.
Many of us wondered what impact COVID-19 would have on the Primary election in May. When I threw my hat in the ring in February, I had no idea that we would be hit with a pandemic that made traditional campaigning all but impossible. How would voters respond? Would they disengage completely? Nope, not even close. Data from the Douglas County Election Commission shows that the push for vote by mail was incredibly effective as over 149,000 ballots were cast. Contrast that number with the 2016 presidential primary when only 71,000 ballots were cast, and it is easy to see that people were engaged in the process. 149,000 votes cast in a primary election, let that sink in, more than twice as many as the 2016 primary, that is huge. I can’t say that I saw that kind of turnout coming. As impressive as that turnout number is, it still represents just over 41% of registered voters in Douglas County. As a candidate in the May primary, I was more engaged than ever in the work of engaging voters and encouraging them to get involved, and I had a front-row seat for the exciting results that followed.
In my time on the YP Council, I have had the pleasure of speaking with a lot of young professionals in our community. Some have asked how they can get involved in the important work of making Omaha a more welcoming and inclusive community. One simple answer to that question is one word: vote. Young people vote at the lowest rate of any age group of registered voters, so it stands to reason that if we can increase the number of 18-29-year-olds that vote, we can increase the impact of their voices. Next step from voting, have you considered running for office? There are plenty of offices up for election each cycle, and some end up being single candidate races. We need more courageous young professionals willing to throw their hat in the ring. Remember, decisions are made by the people that show up, and now, more than ever, we need young people to show up and make their voices heard.