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COVID-19 Is Changing The Way One Organization Registers People To Vote

Registering to vote is usually an interactive, interpersonal effort, where organizations host registration events at college campuses or churches. But in the time of pandemic, it's changed the way nonprofit organization are reaching potential voters.

NextGen America's goal is to register 30,000 North Carolinians to vote this year and get 32,000 to the polls.

The organization was created to mobilize young voters on a various issues like healthcare, immigration and equality.

"We believe in the power of youth vote and we know that young people could be the margin of victory or defeat for all of these critical races that we have on the ballot this year," NextGen America North Carolina Press Secretary Rachel Weber said.

Now they reach out to people via social media, digital ads or cold-calling.

next gen america
Credit Rachel Weber / Next Gen America
Next Gen America
The Triad chapter of Next Gen America plans to register 30,000 North Carolinians to vote and get 22,000 of them to the polls.

Organizer Marcia Lacopo still finds a way to authentically connect with her peers even if she's behind a computer screen or on the phone.

She's a rising senior at UNC Greensboro where she's majoring in arts administration and organizer for the Triad chapter of NextGen America.

"My organizing style has translated into my schoolwork and into my job," she said.  "I've been able to get better at organizing people meeting people. Just standing and talking in front of people I used to be terrified and now I am so proud to be able to do these kinds of things with this work."

Lacopo comes from a political family and said she got involved with the organization because she feels like her identity is under threat.

"I also identify as a queer woman so seeing our rights being attacked in this Trump administration really got me fired up," she said. "I found an incredible way through NextGen to actually stand up for myself and encourage people around me to stand up for themselves as well."

In addition to cold calling, NextGen organizers like Emma Jane Beckert are mailing vote-by-mail applications to registered voters.

"It's been accepted very positively, especially with youth voters who are so digital," she said.

Not everyone is convinced with the vote-by-mail option. President Donald Trump has attacked the system of mailing in ballots. Trump previously said ballots could be stolen from mail carriers or forged.

Beckert hears that hesitation when she speaks to people about it.

"They believe it is voter fraud that it's more susceptible to fraud and that's just false," she said. "Voter fraud is real, but it is not guaranteed if you vote by mail. Voting by mail is super secure."

According to the US Census Bureau, voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds has been below 50 percent for each of the last eight presidential elections.

People can register to vote up to 25 days before the election through the DMV or their County's Board of Elections. Same day early voting registration is also available.

Weber says a low voter turnout is something this country can not afford.

"So many of the things that motivate young people to get involved with politics and vote, we're seeing those issues being attacked by the Trump administration," she said. 

Naomi P. Brown joined WUNC in January 2017.
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