Record number of millennials sign up to run for local office in 2018 midterms

The Illinois state seal.

By Elizabeth Beyer
Medill Reports

Grassroots organizations launched since the last national election to train young first-time candidates received thousands of requests for assistance.

First time candidates under the age of 35 are taking on entrenched incumbents in midterm races across the country. Many of them cited the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and lack of representation in local politics as their motivation.

One such organization, Run For Something, launched in January of 2017 with mostly small-donor contributions. 

“We thought it’d be really small, we’d get maybe 100 people who would want to run in the first year. Instead we have 15,000 millennials signed up with us to say they want to run for office,” said Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something.

Amanda Litman on the lack of supporting organizations for first-time, millennial candidates

Litman, Hillary Clinton’s email director during the 2016 presidential election, received numerous requests for advice from millennials before she created Run for Something. Helping potential candidates who lacked the wherewithal to make it onto the ballot was her motivation for starting the organization.

Run For Something focuses on recruiting and supporting progressive candidates, 35-years-old and under, in local elections and provides those candidates with resources to build their campaign.  Training, mentoring, access to social media networks and other support help propel the new campaigns.

2018’s potential blue wave

“There’s a real chance 2018 will be what we call a wave election” which will act as mass opposition to the political party currently in power, said David Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University and author of The MoveOn Effect – The Unexpected Transformation of Political Advocacy.

Groups such as Run For Something and MoveOn become important in wave elections because the question will become “did you find a viable candidate for these seats that often are uncontested,” Karpf said, and these groups are helping to find, support and train those candidates.

Meet some of the candidates running in Illinois:

Shavon Francis, a 24-year-old accountant for Archer Daniels Midland, is leveraging her profession into a run for Macon County Treasurer.  Five years ago,  she didn’t think she would ever run for public office.

Shavon Francis shares her motivation for entering the race for Macon County Treasurer

Daniel Foster, 30, candidate for Cook County Commissioner for Skokie and Evanston (13th District), attributes his motivation to run for office to the election of President Donald Trump. He is running in the democratic primary against incumbent Larry Suffredin and another Run for Something candidate, Bushra Amiwala.

Daniel Foster discusses his motivation for running for Cook County Commissioner in the 13th District

Peter Gariepy is running for Cook County Treasurer and wants to create a fully transparent and accountable office to take the guesswork out of where county tax dollars go, he said. He is running against incumbent treasurer  Maria Pappas.  

Peter Gariepy shares his motivation for running for Cook County Treasurer

Zahra Suratwala, a candidate for DuPage County Board District 1, representing suburbs such Elmhurst and Addison, said she considered herself to be apolitical until a few months before she signed up to run as a Democrat.

Bob Morgan, a lawyer and candidate for state representative in the 58th district, found his motivation while fighting President Donald Trump’s controversial Travel Ban.

Voter turnout may still be a challenge 

While grassroots organizations such as MoveOn and Run For Something are igniting a large base of  new candidates,  the push to support them may not affect voter turnout, said Robert Bruhl, associate professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Despite numerous get out the vote efforts since the Voters Rights Act of 1965 passed, there has been no statistical effect in increasing voter turnout and registration, Bruhl said.

Robert Bruhl on the lack of voter engagement

According to Bruhl, millennials have the lowest voter turnout of any age group.