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The Youth Voice Belongs in Government
Why we formed the New Voters Advisory Council. By Matthew Han
Pennsylvania is one of the most influential states when it comes to politics on a national scale. Encapsulating a rather bi-partisan population, securing the support of Pennsylvania voters can often be the difference between a Senate or House majority, and even the Presidency. Thus, it is especially crucial that every voter in Pennsylvania uphold their civic responsibilities of voting in both national and just as contested local elections. Unfortunately, youth voter turnout and engagement in Pennsylvania leaves much to be improved, with only nearly 1 in 3 voters between the ages of 18-29 turning out to cast a ballot according to Politics PA. While improved from years prior, turnout leaves much to be desired, especially within a state in which youth were placed as #1 on the Youth Electoral Significance Index for 2022 Midterm Elections according to CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement based in Tufts University.
Much of this lack of participation amongst youth in Pennsylvania comes with a lack of understanding and exposure to government, particularly local government. With less exposure to midterms and the processes that surround state legislatures, youth lack understanding of how local government works, and an absence of connection to their local legislators at times can leave them feeling unheard and disconnected.
That is why New Voters and the Policy team have been working towards a solution that remedies this issue by connecting students and teenagers across the state to their local legislators. The Youth Advisory Council Program gives Pennsylvania youth an intimate opportunity to become a part of local government within their constituency, and actively work with State Senators near them. Modeled after similar programs across other states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, the program gives students a chance to meet together regularly with their State Senator and do a variety of engaging activities. Whether it’s shadowing at official meetings, working on a capstone project on a topic they care about, or advising the Senator on issues they believe in, the YAC provides an outlet where representatives can heed advice from the youth in their district, and youth can learn about local government.
To this point, New Voters has helped establish and garner support for the program in 10 different Senate offices all across Pennsylvania, ranging from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and to everywhere in between. Throughout this upcoming school year, different offices will pilot the program, giving youth across Pennsylvania a chance to learn about local government, become civically engaged, and grow into future change makers at the ballots and beyond into their everyday lives. New Voters continues to look to expand into every office in PA, and create a lasting program that will impact countless students to come.