Youth turnout skyrocketed for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election

Supporters attend a campaign rally of Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman at Temple University on October 29, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By Sean Kitchen

November 27, 2023

Preserving reproductive rights motivated college students to vote in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race. Youth turnout on key college campuses throughout the commonwealth more than doubled compared to 2021’s supreme court election.

Youth turnout on college campuses around Pennsylvania for the 2023 supreme court race between Daniel McCaffery and Carolyn Carluccio increased by 110% when compared to the last time there was an open supreme court seat in 2021.

Some of the largest increases in turnout between the 2021 and 2023 elections occurred in precincts that housed Penn State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh or the University of Pennsylvania, with Temple University seeing a 563% increase during that time.

“We had our first organizers on the ground on October 2nd,” said Connie Miller, the state director for Project 26, which was a coalition of progressive organizations dedicated to increasing youth voter turnout.

“We came in knowing that we wanted to have a really adaptive organizing program. So we were focused on some conventional tactics like high traffic canvassing, but we also focused a lot on dorm based relational outreach.”

Organizations involved with Project 26’s voter outreach efforts include Make the Road Pennsylvania, the NAACP and NextGen America.

“In what is sometimes dubbed a political ‘off-year,’ young Pennsylvania voters showed up and turned out,” Cortney Bouse, NextGen America’s Pennsylvania State Director, said in a statement.

“So often young folks are underestimated, but our team, and so many partner organizations, are proving that when you spend the time to invest and educate this critical bloc about what’s at stake and how their voice can have an impact, they want to show up for their communities.”

Meeting students where they live and talking about issues such as protecting access to reproductive healthcare played an important role getting more college students to show up to the polls in 2023.

According to a post-election brief provided by Project 26, their youth turnout operation began on Oct. 2nd and consisted of over 55 student fellows to build relationships with their peers. Organizers and students built relationships with campus Resident Advisors and school administrators, which allowed them inside campus dorms to knock doors and hold events.

To spread the word about preserving reproductive rights, Project 26 used non-partisan messaging for their voter guides and on Babrbie-themed “Votergirl” stickers and posters, which was then turned into a series of SEPTA transit ads at stops near Temple’s and the University of Pennvylvania’s campuses.

One of the biggest success stories from this cycle happened at Temple University. In 2021, only 30 voters turned out at Temple’s precinct to participate in the supreme court race between Justice Kevin Brobson and democratic challenger Maria McClaughlin. Those numbers jumped to 169 ballots casted in 2023, which was a 563% increase in turnout.

Asia Broadus, who was the campus organizer with Project 26 at Temple University, described her experiences working with Temple students in an interview with The Keystone.

“It was really cool organizing the students,” Broadus said.

“We were able to give the students a lot of autonomy with how they communicated with other students. And I think that was really important because the students responded well to speaking to other students about the election rather than having random folks from off the street come in and talk to them about what’s going on and why it’s important.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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