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'When you invest in young voters, you get more votes'
An update on the Wisconsin Supreme Court election featuring new information about Project 72 WI, a "scrappy and creative" youth-vote coalition.
Voter turnout in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election yesterday broke the record for a spring election in a non-presidential primary year. That historic turnout propelled liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz to victory. She’ll now serve a 10-year term on a bench that could make decisions about abortion, redistricting, and voting access in the state.
As The Up and Up covered yesterday, there was clear energy from young voters and investments from youth-vote organizers in the lead up to the consequential election.
But today, we have a bit more insight into what those efforts looked like.
Meet Project 72 Wisconsin 🤝 🦡 🧀
Since February 1, youth-vote organizers have been laser focused on turning out voters on and around college campuses in The Badger State. Across 14 campuses (including most of the major University of Wisconsin schools and a few private universities), organizers with Project 72 WI, who’s name alludes to the 72 counties in the state, worked to educate and mobilize young people around the Supreme Court election. Though the group started off as an education focused organization, it shifted and later endorsed state Supreme Court Justice-elect Protasiewicz.
“We built what we believe is the largest youth vote mobilization effort in Wisconsin state Supreme Court election history,” Teddy Landis, Youth Vote Director for Project 72 WI, told The Up and Up. “We were talking to students who had never heard about the Wisconsin Supreme Court before. We were talking to students who had never voted before. All of that paid off.”
Self-described as “scrappy and creative,” Project 72 WI knocked on 40,000 university student doors, from college dorm rooms to off-campus apartments. The group did “bar canvasses” at UW Madison campus bars where they took polaroid pictures with potential voters (in hopes of having those polaroids posted on Instagram). And the group posted on TikTok, where followers grew familiar with “Dancing Janet” — who wore a judge costume and became the state Supreme Court Justice-elect’s “alter ego.”
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The group, which started as a team of two including Landis and Wisconsin political operative Mike Tate, grew into an apparatus of over 100 people, with experts including former youth organizing director at the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Brianna Koerth, deputy youth director for the Wisconsin Democratic Party in 2020, Alex Teodorescu, and Julia Alexander, who served as the Arizona Democratic Party’s campus program director last fall.
“It was the avengers of youth vote organizers coming together to blow expectations,” Landis explained. “The bonkers part is how we were able to turn what is typically an obscure April election into something that every young person on campus was talking about.”
The group worked in coalition with: Rise, Working Families Party, Planned Parenthood, Empower, NextGen America, Leaders Igniting Transformation, Vote Riders, For Our Future, Climate Emergency Advocates, Un-PAC, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, MoveOn, America Votes, ReOrganized, For Wisconsin, A Better Wisconsin Together, Path to Progress, Voters of Tomorrow, and GenZ for Change.
Asked what his biggest takeaways were, Landis said, “When you invest in youth organizing it delivers.”
He described meeting a student last night at 7:41pm, 19 minutes before the polls closed.
Landis asked if the young man had ever voted before — he had not.
Landis asked if he knew about the state Supreme Court election. The student said he had seen some things, and was headed to a meeting, not planning to vote.
But after talking with him, Landis said, the student headed back into the dining hall, which was the campus polling location, and cast his first ever ballot.
“That’s not an uncommon thing,” Landis said. “Throughout the day yesterday, I talked to multiple people who had never voted before and persuaded them to vote on the spot.”
Other organizers with the coalition reiterated that for students, the top issue in this election was far and away abortion.
Ellen Sciales, a volunteer with Project 72 WI, told The Up and Up that a couple of days ago on campus at UW Eau Claire, a voter shared her own experience with abortion — demonstrating that the state’s abortion ban (which Wisconsin’s Democratic governor and attorney general challenged with a lawsuit) is tangible for young Wisconsinites.
“She said, ‘I needed an abortion, and I had to drive out of state into Minnesota. They had me take the pill on the spot. I drove back hours and hours bleeding.’ People on campuses have already started to feel the impact of the abortion ban,” Sciales said.
According to the group, the most popular sticker they doled out said “i ❤️ bodily autonomy.”
Beyond anecdotal evidence and conclusions drawn from exceptionally long lines at on-campus polling locations, initial analysis from Project 72 WI shared with The Up demonstrates that youth voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was high. While it’s difficult to calculate the youth share of the vote in Wisconsin, the group said that according to its analysis of “key campus precincts,” when comparing to fall 2022 midterm turnout, student-heavy wards outperformed the general population.
The big picture
Both Landis and Sciales emphasized that high youth voter turnout from Gen Z is now the norm, not an exception.
“There’s always been youth organizing. But if you look at the numbers, in 2018, there was record youth vote in the midterms. In 2020, young voters went out and voted for President Joe Biden in numbers we had never seen before. In 2022, the youth vote was high. People thought it was an anomaly that young people voted at high rates, but it’s continuing,” Landis said. “The political establishment is seeing that when you invest in young voters, you get more votes, and thats why we continue to see these voters invested in.”