Janet Protasiewicz and Brandon Johnson win major Midwest elections thanks to youth voters

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On Tuesday, voters in two Midwestern states elected liberal officials to lead high-profile political positions in Illinois and Wisconsin. And the rise of youth political engagement impacted these elections with an increase in youth voter turnout.

Chicagoans picked union organizer and former teacher Brandon Johnson as the city’s 57th mayor. And Wisconsin voters elected liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz to a 10-year term on the state’s Supreme Court.

Protasiewicz’s win over conservative former Justice Dan Kelly means Wisconsin’s high-court flips to a 4-3 liberal majority and comes as the high court is expected to weigh in on the state’s 1849 abortion ban soon.

Protasiewicz, who’s openly supported abortion access, is expected to help reverse the ban.

Besides the race being the most expensive judicial election ever (making history with more than $40 million in spending), the court may also decide on cases connected to voter ID laws and redistricting, all of which Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez believes motivated the historic and overwhelming surge in youth voter turnout that helped decide this critical Supreme Court win. Ramirez is the president of the nonprofit organization “NextGen America”.

“This primary result shows an unprecedented level of youth voter retention between elections,” said Ramirez in a press release.

“At one of the main polling locations for University of Wisconsin-Madison freshmen, over 500 votes were cast – a major jump from 2019, when only 44 votes were case in the same location,” Ramirez explained.

In an interview with Reckon, Ramirez points out a broken pattern of “the older people get, the more conservative they are,” made by older millennials.

“As [older millennials] reach midlife, [they’re] actually staying as progressive as they were,” said Ramirez, adding that many young people overwhelmingly reject the position of the Republican party on a host of issues right now.

“Especially in Wisconsin, abortion was on the ballot for many of them and turned them out in record numbers. This is the most civically engaged young generation in America,” she said.

Young Chicago voters were similarly engaged on Tuesday for the mayoral election that saw Johnson elected by a tight margin against fellow Democratic candidate Paul Vallas.

In an interview with ABC Chicago, “Chicago Votes” Director of Communications Katrina Phidd said an increase of 32 percent in votes cast by people ages 18-24, from the initial February mayoral election, was recorded.

For voters ages 25-34, a 24 percent increase (amounting to 87,506 votes) in voter turnout was recorded in this election compared to February’s (70,306 votes).

Co-founder of the nonprofit GoodKidsMadCity, Carlil Pittman, explained that ongoing efforts to create spaces for young people to learn more are critical in increasing long-term turnout.

“We allowed platforms to be created where young people and [their] community can come together and ask critical questions important to [them],” said Pittman.

Like hosting a youth-centered town hall, where they brought both mayoral candidates and young people together to ask candidates specific questions crucial to their communities.

“The community [heard] directly from the candidate’s mouths on what they would support, what their plan was as it pertained to young people, and violence and resources for the youth,” elaborated Pittman, adding that Johnson’s win was exciting for them.

“Because this is someone who agreed to support the work that we’re pushing like the Peace Book, is from the community, but also that they’ve been able to meet and connect with on multiple [occasions] as well,” said Pittman.

The Peace Book is a proposed ordinance to reallocate two percent of the Chicago Police Department budget to create neighborhood commissions that promote peace and safety, and public safety programs that emphasize non-police community outreach.

But the takeaway for Pittman is prioritizing youth-led initiatives.

He believes that when young voters plan, fully participate in and take ownership of these efforts, they further empower other young voters to be engaged in political and civic causes.

“We believe in giving young people those opportunities and access to where they feel accountable to something existing. Like it’s theirs because it is theirs,” he said.

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

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