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Why So Many Nevadans Don't Vote

Sep 13, 2018
Originally published on September 13, 2018 7:31 pm
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Election Day is less than eight weeks away. But in a midterm year, a majority of voters don't cast a ballot. In particular, young people are far less likely to vote than older people. In the last midterm election, only about 20 percent of voters under age 30 showed up at the polls. NPR's Asma Khalid has been exploring why so many people sit out elections in America and has this report from Nevada.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: In the 2014 election, the area around the Las Vegas Strip, which is Nevada's first congressional district, had one of the worst youth-voter turnout rates in the country. Less than 5 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted. That's according to estimates from Tufts University. Brenda Lopez was one of those nonvoters. The day we met, she left her house at 5:30 in the morning for a job at an armored cash-handling company. By the time she gets back home - the home she shares with her parents, her grandma, her siblings, her husband and her daughter - she is exhausted.

BRENDA LOPEZ: It's not easy, you know, being a mom and then being wife, having to cook and just still trying to keep up with work and school. And I feel like I have no time for myself.

KHALID: Lopez is 26, and she's not registered to vote.

LOPEZ: One of the main reasons why I haven't voted is because I feel that I'm always too busy.

KHALID: Lopez doesn't like how President Trump talks about immigrants. She would love better health care. Medicaid, she says, was a godsend when she was pregnant. But even if she registers, she's not sure who she would vote for. Many young people like Lopez feel they haven't learned enough about American politics in high school. And so like 23-year-old Shelby Mabis, they don't see the point in voting. And Mabis is a stocky, blond Marine Corps vet taking a mandatory political science class at a community college in Vegas.

SHELBY MABIS: I've never voted before. From what - all I know about voting is that you show up to a poll place, and you vote. But I don't know what I need to bring. I don't even know what happens during their...

KHALID: A recent survey of working-class youth found that nearly 20 percent say they don't think they know enough to vote. As for how and where to vote, that can be found with an Internet search. But for Mabis, it's not just about education. It's about location. He grew up in Missouri. That's where he registered to vote.

MABIS: I now - being away from home, I don't feel connected to the political system here at all.

KHALID: Analysts say young people tend to move around a lot, and so they often feel less invested in local elections. They also want to choose individual candidates, not just a party label. Many say they felt uninspired by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. So like Jonas Rand, they didn't vote for president.

JONAS RAND: I don't believe that it actually is effective, to vote as a main method of accomplishing political change.

KHALID: Rand is a senior studying anthropology. He's a political activist who protests, and he's no fan of our two-party political system. Rand thinks Trump is a fascist, and he's concerned about the immigration policies being enacted. But still, he says voting wouldn't have changed anything.

RAND: I feel like it wouldn't be relevant because here in Nevada, we had an electoral college that voted for Clinton.

KHALID: But if young people don't vote, they're not going to be targeted by political campaigns because campaigns have data telling them who votes and who doesn't. Francisco Morales is a community activist in Nevada trying to mobilize infrequent voters.

FRANCISCO MORALES: It's no coincidence that politicians care a lot about Medicare and Social Security, right? Seniors vote all the time. But some of the other issues that we care about are often overlooked because politicians are not afraid of our voting bloc.

KHALID: What kinds of issues, I ask him.

MORALES: Issues like the student loans.

KHALID: Morales is knocking on doors in a neighborhood where he grew up. He shows me the data on the next woman whose house he's approaching. In 2016, his group contacted her four times. It was time-consuming, but he considers it worth it because ultimately, on Election Day, she voted. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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