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Young voters tune into Wisconsin Supreme Court election, where abortion access is top of mind
From campuses to TikTok, the energy around the state Supreme Court race demonstrates continued electoral interest on the part of Gen Z. Why? The stakes are too high to not care, organizers say.
It’s Election Day in Wisconsin and young people are paying attention to the race for the state’s open Supreme Court seat between Liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz and conservative former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly.
The winner will serve a 10-year term on a bench that could make decisions about abortion, redistricting, and voting access in the state.
Young people are paying attention 👀
Wisconsin has an 1849 abortion ban on the books (which the Democratic governor and attorney general challenged with a lawsuit). With split balance of power in the state between a Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor, the state Supreme Court will likely decide the fate of abortion access in Wisconsin, and reproductive rights have become a focal point in this race.
Energy is high
There was lots of energy from young voters in Wisconsin in the 2022 midterms. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts (CIRCLE), young voters helped catapult Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers to victory in November. At the time, many of those voters stressed concerns about abortion access.
Hoping to capitalize on that momentum, organizers have been working all winter to drive up youth voter turnout in the Supreme Court race, highlighting the key issues at stake - hoping they once again resonate with younger voters.
Teddy Landis, a seasoned youth-vote veteran who spent more than a month in Wisconsin this fall and returned this winter to turn out young voters in today’s election, told The Up and Up that he believes young voters are uniquely energized around this race.
“This generation has grown up with every election being the most important election of their lives. April elections are usually quiet, staid affairs, but not this time. Students have seen first-hand how much their votes matter and our conversations suggest they’re going to be voting again at rates never seen in an April Spring Election,” Landis said.
To his point, the youth-led climate organization Sunrise Movement posted a video on Twitter last week of an early voting line at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This kind of thing is unprecedented for an April election,” the group wrote.
And here’s a video from today:
LIT Wisconsin, an affiliate of the Alliance for Youth Action that works to build political power for young people of color in the state, has been “prioritizing direct voter contact” ahead of the election, Amanda Avalos, the group’s 33-year-old co-executive director, told The Up and Up. LIT has chapters on 11 University of Wisconsin campuses and eight high school campuses across the state. In addition to its year round programming to educate voters, LIT ramped up phone banking, relational text banking, and door knocking ahead of the election.
In her conversations with voters, “abortion rights seems to be the number one issue,” Avalos said. “We started to see that last fall as a huge motivator for young people and everybody really, not specific to party.”
“Knocking doors in Milwaukee for the fall elections, we constantly heard this at the doors,” she said.
But while young people were heavily focused on abortion this fall, according to Avalos, the importance of abortion amongst voters is “growing,” and the topic is coming up even more now than it did in the midterms.
“I’m hearing it more,” Avalos said.
Hyping up the TikTok crowd
In addition to on campus organizing and community door knocking in the state, creators from across the country have been hyping up the election on TikTok.
According to Gen Z For Change , the social media coalition worked with a group of TikTok creators (beyond members of their own group) to help “translate why a state Supreme Court election for a 10-year term matters for youth voters.”
The creators have made videos emphasizing abortion access, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and other issues that matter to young voters.
While Gen Z for Change itself endorsed Protasiewicz, the coalition affiliated content is entirely nonpartisan and focused instead on jacking up turnout.
Asked about the youth energy in what would typically be considered an off cycle election, Gen Z for Change’s director of politics and government affairs Olivia Julianna said she believes the stakes are different for this generation of young voters than generations prior.
“I think that Roe v. Wade being overturned was a wake up call to a lot of people. These are not just veiled threats, these are promises that they will roll back rights… I think that mixed with the fact that Gen Z has grown up with these generational traumas that we hadn’t seen in other generations,” Julianna said.
Julianna listed 9/11, the war on terror, school shootings, recession, Covid-19, and the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as events that have impacted all young voters. And she described the 2020 and 2022 election cycles as “extremely contentious.”
“As we’re coming into adulthood, we’re told you need to be responsible and think about your future. We’ve been told our entire lives that our future is just going to be horrible with events that we’re just going to have to deal with,” Julianna said.
Meanwhile, Chandler Quaile, the state government organizing coordinator for Gen Z for Change, said “Gen Z does not have the option to not pay attention.”
“At this point we are looking at the fundamental stripping away of the progress of most of the last 50 years. For other generations, the urgency of now hasn’t been so apparent… You cannot turn on your phone without being confronted by mass death and mass crisis,” Quaile said.
And yet, Gen Z is paying attention and tuning in, especially at times like these. While there’s “huge nihilism” he said, for young people there’s also “the promise that there is change and there is something better.”
“That is why this Wisconsin Supreme Court race matters. Yes, you have the power to do something. And when we win… things are going to change. [We] take the power we built here and mobilize these voters to demand better because they deserve better,” Quaile said.
Youth vote in the Wisco news 🗞
Voters swipe right for Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election, Lina Tran for NPR featuring NextGen America and Girl and The Gov
Young voters can help Democrats. Will enough of them cast ballots in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race?, Kelly Meyerhofer and Hunter Turpin for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The race that could determine abortion rights in Wisconsin, Dylan Wells for The Washington Post and Covering Politics on Instagram
And a relatable tweet: