Why Voter Participation Among 18-29 Year-Olds Is Growing In the United States

The Mikva Challenge Is Amplifying Youth Voices in Civic Life

The November 2018 midterm election saw the highest voter turnout in four decades. Fifty-three percent of those eligible to vote showed up to polls, and turnout went up among all age groups and major racial and ethnic groups. The largest jump in turnout for any age group was among 18-29 year olds, increasing 16 percent since 2014, which was the last midterm election year.

Civics education in K-12 classrooms is vital if we want high voter engagement to continue. And Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit organization focusing on civics education for youth, is pushing the envelope on what civics inside and outside the classroom can and should look like for America’s next generation. They believe (and we couldn’t agree more!) that youth voice and participation matter, and that our democracy will be stronger when youth are engaged in civic and political processes.

Mikva Challenge program participants conduct voter registration outreach

Mikva Challenge program participants conduct voter registration outreach.

What is Mikva Challenge and How Does It Approach Civics Education?

Mikva Challenge aims to deeply transform students’ civic attitudes, skills, and sense of agency through hands-on, project-based learning. The organization has chapters in Illinois, California, right in our backyard here in Washington D.C., and partners with specific schools in several other states.

Mikva Challenge program participants engage in policy discussions

Mikva Challenge program participants engage in policy discussions.

Civics education yields a more politically engaged population and elevates youth voices traditionally underrepresented in the democratic process. Mikva Challenge’s programming has a clear lasting impact on the political voice and participation of program graduates. The impressive statistics speak for themselves:

  • 87% of Mikva Alumni believe they have the power to make a difference in solving community issues (versus 55 percent of their peers nationally)
  • 88% of eligible Mikva Alumni are registered voters.

Mikva Challenge in the time of COVID-19

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic closing schools across the nation and transitioning classrooms to distance learning, Mikva Challenge has found creative ways to pivot their programming to an online learning format.

At the national level, Mikva Challenge has created a Youth Rapid Response Network, which aims to elevate youth voice in response to COVID-19. The Network includes 23 students from 13 different cities who are meeting regularly to highlight youth perspectives in the era of coronavirus. Further, Mikva Challenge staff are publishing daily civics education lessons on their Facebook account for teachers, parents, and youth to engage in while practicing distance learning.

At the local level, Mikva DC staff are partnering with program participants to develop a website centered around “Getting ready for the 2020 election.” Their goal is to highlight important voter registration information, provide non-partisan information on candidates’ platforms, and publish data gathered from surveys about what political issues people consider most important. Using Instagram’s live chat feature (@mikvachallengedc), Mikva DC’s afterschool program, “Mikva Elections in Actions Fellows,” has organized weekly “Youth in Quarantine” table talks to discuss various political issues. Check out their first table talk about health care, and their most recent table talk about criminal justice.

Mikva Challenge program participants lead "Youth in Quarantine" Health Care table talk using Instagram live feature

“Youth in Quarantine” Health Care table talk using Instagram live feature.

How Mikva Challenge Has Always Amplified Youth Voices

Mikva Challenge has been working tirelessly for youth civic engagement prior to the pandemic. Mikva’s four main program areas include Action Civics Classrooms, Project Soapbox, Election and Campaign Experiences, and Youth-led Advocacy. Check out the descriptions below of their comprehensive programming:

Action Civics Classrooms

Mikva Challenge partners with teachers to employ their Action Civics curricula. The curriculum provides hands-on experiential lessons in community problem solving, youth leadership, analysis and participation in electoral systems, and thoughtful evaluation and creation of media.

Project Soapbox

Through an incredible hands-on program, Mikva Challenge provides youth with the opportunity to research an issue they are passionate about and create a two-minute speech, which must include researched evidence and a call to action. Students deliver their speeches on several platforms, ranging from their classroom to a citywide audience. Check out Ezra’s soapbox speech on climate change!

A Mikva Challenge program participant speaks during a "Project Soapbox" event

A Mikva Challenge program participant speaks during a “Project Soapbox” event.

Election and Campaign Experiences

Mikva Challenge provides a series of opportunities throughout the year that connects youth with real-world campaign work and interactions with candidates and elected officials. This early exposure to the political system provides students with a taste of local, state, and national political processes, even before they are old enough to vote!

Youth-led Advocacy

Mikva Challenge encourages public policy makers to include youth at the decision making table. The organization believes better decisions are made when young people are involved in determining solutions to problems that impact their lives.

Looking Forward to November

It is unclear what this November’s presidential election will hold given the mounting complications that COVID-19 is presenting for the political process. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, Mikva Challenge participants and Mikva Alumni are more prepared than ever to meet the challenges our democracy will encounter. With a continued investment in civics education, a more robust political system will continue to come to fruition in a time we need it most.


Image Credits: Photos courtesy of Mikva DC and used with permission of Executive Director Robyn Lingo.