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Civic influencers hope to turbocharge student voters

Two students standing at an informational table talk
Virginia Tech student Raegan Lamkin encourages classmates to vote. Lamkin works with Civic Influencers, a nonprofit that works to connect young people to the civic process. (Photos: Pam Hervey/For VPM News)

For a deeper look at Civic Influencers, watch VPM News Focal Point at 8:00 p.m. Thursday.

A recent NPR/Marist poll found that out of any age group, young Americans were least likely to say they plan to vote in the upcoming election. One reason, according to a Harvard study, is a sharp increase in young people believing their vote doesn’t make a difference. But one organization is running a campaign for and by young people to get out the vote.

“I want to impact the vote as much as I can, so I became a civic influencer to get access to the resources and to be able impact the elections as much as I can,” said Raegan Lamkin, a junior at Virginia Tech.

Through a paid fellowship with the organization Civic Influencers, Lamkin works to influence young people to vote, particularly those from marginalized communities. She said, “I became a civic influencer because I knew that there were marginalized communities that do not show up to vote, and youth is one of them.”

Civic Influencers is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that empowers young people to build their civic power. It focuses on helping to dismantle barriers to voting and increasing youth voter registration and turnout, with a strong emphasis on Black, Indigenous and other racial minorities. 
 
Lamkin told VPM News Focal Point that issues like reproductive rights are motivating more young people to think about voting.  

“More women are getting mad and more women are getting angry, and they're wanting to get more involved. And I think we're seeing that in Civic Influencers,” she said. “So, I plan on creating a new club through Virginia Tech called the Voters of Tomorrow. It's actually a national organization. And I hope to start a chapter here which focuses on youth priorities like climate change, economic justice, reproductive rights.”
 
“I found Civic Influencers when I was looking for a job over the summer, and I really wanted to apply skills that I learned while studying political science. And when I read about it, I thought Civic Influencers just looked like an amazing opportunity to be able to apply my skills and to create a positive change within my community and make an impact in any way that I could,” said Chloe Vanderhoof, a junior at the University of Mary Washington. 

A person sits for an interview
Civic influencer Chloe Vanderhoof created a Linktree where people can get information about civics and politics.

This year, Civic Influencers employs more than 300 young people from 23 states. There are 12 students working in Virginia — at Virginia Tech, University of Mary Washington, Radford University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University.

Katrina Cousins, a Civic Influencers organizer-at-large, said it’s about supporting young people to voice their feelings on issues and engage in the democratic process.

“We found out through data-driven information that [people] from the age of 18 to 29 have been able to make an impact on voting or impacting their community,” she said. “We have students all over the United States. We are looking to saturate our market with more civic influencers.”

Civic influencers are encouraged to develop their own creative ideas for outreach. Vanderhoof uses social media with a strategic goal.

“One of the bigger projects that I did was over the summer and online on my social media platforms. I introduced an area for people to ask anonymous questions about anything, politically. And I created a Linktree, and I called it Civic OneStop,” she said. “It is kind of a one-stop shop where you can look for any political information you need. You can find how to register to vote, you can find media sources that are as nonpartisan as possible, you can take ideology quizzes to figure out what you believe and find candidates that match those beliefs.”  

Vanderhoof said she sees her work as helping to bolster the nation’s democracy.

“I think the right to vote is something that really does need to be protected,” she said. “And the way that we can do that is by showing we care, which is showing up to the polls and encouraging people to vote and letting them know that it is really great to make your voice heard and to make sure that you are counted in every election.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Raegan Lamkin's name. We have updated the story and apologize for the error.