Thursday, April 25, 2024

Don't be a bystander

Staff Writer | August 26, 2020 1:08 AM

Since 2002, only 25% of registered Kootenai County voters participate in elections on average. With the current political climate soaring, the Coeur d'Alene Civic Engagement Alliance hopes it can get more people to vote.

The nonpartisan nonprofit Civic Engagement Alliance first broke ground in 2018 after board president and founder Jessica Mahuron was shocked by the lack of voter participation in the 2018 elections.

"I was very concerned with how many people chose not to vote at all, and I was interested in how we can raise more awareness on the local level," Mahuron said. "Part of the Alliance's purpose is to help register voters, provide information, and create a big drive in community participation."

According to county records, since 2002, Kootenai residents' voter turnout ranges from 87% in presidential election years to 54% for nonpresidential ballots. In the 2018 general election, records show only 63% of legal age adults in the county were registered to vote. Of that 63%, 47% participated in the polls.

Of those 47% almost 50% of the local ballots were cast by residents over the age of 60, Mahuron said. Alliance's most significant goal is to increase voter participation in the lower performing age groups, a struggle felt nationwide.

"People under the age of 45 are making up very little of our electorate," Mahuron said. "When certain populations aren't voting, there is no incentive to create or promote policy for them, which creates long-term issues."

By developing a more robust range of voters, Mahuron said the government is forced to become a better representation of the community. This year's ballot is especially important, including hot-ticket items such as the presidency, Idaho's U.S. senator and representatives, state senate and representatives, two Kootenai County commissioners, the sheriff, and three magistrate judges.

"It is so important to not just vote at the top of the ballot but look at all the positions and items on the bottom," Mahuron said. "People need to know who the candidates are, their track record, and if they are going to represent them the best because it will impact their daily lives."

Last year, Civic Engagement Alliance carried out an online and door-to-door survey of 400 voters about their election participation. According to the study, one of the most significant barriers between voters and the polls is a lack of information.

"They don't have the information they need so they don't vote," Mahuron said. "We are trying to help with that problem. We can't fix it, but we will try to provide any information we can."

Building up to National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, the Alliance's 2020 CDA Votes campaign hopes to reach residents through a Postcards to Voters mail out program, mobile registration drives, and voter information portal on their website.

An ongoing art contest by the Alliance, the Postcards to Voters campaign, encourages children, teens, and adults to send in eye-catching designs for election reminders. In the postcard creation kit, the Alliance supplies volunteers with supplies to create the postcards, mailing lists, and nonpartisan messages that encourage people to vote. The Alliance's sample message aims to inform the public of options for absentee ballots, early registration options, and dates for in-person polling.

This program is expected to reach at least 500 members of the community, but Mahuron hopes with more volunteers and partners, they could send out over 1,000 postcards. There are 27 volunteers signed up through the Alliance's website, and the North Idaho Unitarian Universalist Congregation has partnered with the campaign. Submissions for postcard designs close Sept. 11 with rules and information on the Alliance's website.

Mahuron is also hosting voter registration drives at Live After 5 for the next two weeks and the annual Unsigned Artists Music Festival in downtown Coeur d'Alene this Saturday from 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

With the organization's increased efforts to educate voters, Mahuron hopes Coeur d'Alene will experience an increase in active voters for both national and local government operations.

"The work we are doing does matter in the long run," Mahuron said. "We hope to over the years be a part of positive endeavors that get more people engaged in elections and encourage people to volunteer and be involved in our community."