Historically, young people’s civic participation has not extended to the ballot box. Now, youth leaders in Connecticut say they are poised to make a difference on Election Day, as well.

“You can’t get away from the word ‘vote’ on campus,” Noah Frank, who was just 16 during the 2016 election, said.

Today, he’s a certified poll moderator and the external affairs director of Undergraduate Student Government at UConn. For the past month, Frank says students have been working with state, local, and university leaders to develop a comprehensive plan to turn out the youth vote.

Recently, Frank joined a free community webinar with Attorney General William Tong to discuss Election Day and the future of Connecticut. The event was organized by Shelton-based nonprofit Be (A)Part and students at Yale, UConn and Sacred Heart University. High schoolers across the state also helped to promote the webinar.

Frank and the webinar’s organizers say student governments and organizations are collaborating like never before. Young people are helping other young people answer critical questions to better understand the voting process: Am eligible to vote? Where can I vote? What are the key deadlines? How can I volunteer in my community?

“I see so much hope,” Frank said.

Tong also addressed concerns about voter suppression and intimidation, which can impact voter turnout.

“If anybody tries to pull anything on Election Day, they will be prosecuted,” Tong said. “There will be zero tolerable for [voter suppression and intimidation] here in Connecticut. Period.”

He said his office has been collaborating with the governor, secretary of the state, law enforcement, and local governments, and he says they are highly organized and will act quickly.

Another panelist was Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr., New Haven’s 26th Ward’s youngest and first Black alderman. He first ran for office at the age of 21 after graduating from Fairfield University. Today, he’s chair of the Health and Human Services Committee for New Haven’s Board of Alders.

“We’ve gone above and beyond to protect the health of voters,” said Brackeen, adding Connecticut residents that the secretary of the state has provided adequate training, funding, and PPE supplies to all polling locations in Connecticut.

Brackeen also says, “Since 2018, there have been many great improvements.” That year, voting machines got wet and hundreds of New Haveners and students had to wait in long lines for hours.

“It’s great to see young people getting out. It’s inspiring,” said panelist Laura Smits, vice president of Voter Services of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters Connecticut, currently celebrating 100 years of the women’s right to vote in the U.S. “So much of that has to do with grassroots that’s happening at the local level: working the polls, being part of March of Lives or Black Lives Matter or Me Too. Once you get involved in something, the next logical step is to make it count.”

“This country, our state, your future is entirely in your control and responsibility,” Tong said. “We get the government we deserve. You want a better government, then go out there and fight for it.”

Franks says young people are up for the challenge; they want to build towards a better future here in Connecticut. “I’m a Nutmegger at heart. I love this state, and I know a lot of kids here do, too ... it is our civic duty to show up when big decisions are being made, and vote our conscience.”

Be (A)Part is a Shelton-based nonprofit serving all of Connecticut. It’s mission is to engage, mentor, and train young adult volunteers and leaders to provide critical resources that will help local nonprofits achieve their goals. Learn more at beapart.org