Babe Vote harnesses youth energy to get out the vote

Three teens piled out of a Prius in a Boise Bench neighborhood around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, pulling white t-shirts with the words “BABE VOTE” over hoodie sweatshirts.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more lost in my entire life,” said ninth grader Emma Palmer, consulting a paper map. On it: the addresses of potential voters who, according to the group’s database, had not yet voted in Tuesday’s election.

Neither Palmer nor her companions Neala Magill or Shiva Rajbhandari are old enough to vote in the 2020 election, but they’ve dedicated countless hours to registering voters, waving signs and knocking on doors to encourage others to get to the polls.

Babe Vote, an Idaho nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration organization, has more than 50 youth volunteers. The group has been gearing up for the 2020 election since May, said Rajbhandari, a group organizer, and has collectively registered more than 2,000 voters. Its focus is getting young voters and marginalized communities to the polls.

“It’s important to get people out to vote. Especially young people, because if we can get younger people out to vote now, it can create a routine,” said Liam Hodson, a 14-year-old Babe Vote volunteer. “Young people are going to have different views than older people.”

Babe Vote volunteers encourage Idahoans to vote early in downtown Boise in late October. Sami Edge/IdahoEd News

As the sun faded from the November sky, Palmer, Magill and Rajbhandari crunched through leaves and weaved through leftover Jack-O-Lanterns to knock on doors, in one of the group’s final voter outreach missions before election day.

Palmer would place a sticky note on the door, knock, then stand six feet back. If someone answered, Rajbhandari would launch into a well-rehearsed introduction.

“We just wanted to make sure you’re ready to vote tomorrow,” he’d say. Then came the questions: Did they have a plan to vote? Were they bringing anyone with them to the polls?

Some folks shook their heads at the young people approaching their doors, signaling they didn’t want to talk. Most assured the youths they were going to their precinct, even if they didn’t yet know when. Some asked questions about the process, and 16-year-old Rajbhandari coached them from their lawns.

Yes, it’s too late to mail an absentee ballot, he’d tell them — they could still go to the polls, get their absentee ballot blocked, and vote in-person instead. No, a voter doesn’t have to preregister, they can do that at the polls if they bring an ID and proof of address. If folks voted early they should check that their ballot was accepted at IdahoVotes.Org.

“Thanks for coming out, guys, and thanks for the knowledge,” said one man, who asked Rajbhandari where his local polling place was.

“It’s such an incredible feeling getting people to go vote for me, since I can’t do it,” said Katelyn Gould, 14, a North Junior High School freshman. 

Shiva Rajbhandari and Emma Palmer consult their phones, updating a voter database with which homes they’d visited, and looking for the next house. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

Many of the young Babe Vote volunteers run in the same circles. They’re students at North Junior High School and Boise High School, connected through climate-activism groups, sports and student politics.

“Your friends mobilize and inspire you,” said Petra Hoffman, 15, as she stood on a downtown Boise street corner, waving signs encouraging early voting.

“When you show up for what your friends are trying to do, and they show up for what you’re trying to do, that’s when you become a mobilized group of youth,” Hoffman said. “That’s when change really happens.”

Rajbhandari is a linchpin in organizing. Officially Babe Vote’s youth coordinator, Rajbhandari describes his role as the “people getter.” Sometimes he has to drag his friends out to help, but generally they’re energized about the idea of making a difference when they can’t submit a ballot themselves. Now that he has a license, Rajbhandari is also a chauffeur.

As darkness set over the Bench Monday, the group’s door-knocking window drew to a close. Palmer had to leave for a babysitting gig. Rajbhandari had peers to tutor and plans to help set up the precinct where he’d serve as a poll worker the following day.

Seven months of voter outreach in the bag. One more day until the election.

“I’m scared I haven’t done enough,” Rajbhandari said as he walked down the tree-lined streets. The Bench neighborhood was one of the last territories on the Babe Vote list — but he planned to knock on more doors Tuesday night, trying  to get last-minute voters to the polls before 8 p.m.

“We’re getting it done,” he said. “We’re getting out here.”

“I registered 400 people to vote and I can count on those people to kind of express my views at the ballot box. Even if they don’t have the same opinions, they’re expanding the demographics of voters,” said Shiva Rajbhandari, 16. 

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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