Oregon lawmaker Jefferson Smith, one of the originators of a unique effort to drive up voter turnout at the polls in several states in recent years, told Democratic delegates at the party's state convention in Worley Friday that they must work to engage younger voters to increase voter turnout and provide a solid voting base for the party in the future. Smith also gave Idaho Democrats four ideas to use in future campaigns and policy work.
Campaign officials must also look for different and unique ways to register voters in the future, Smith said, speaking from experience. The BUS Project started when Smith and several others rented a bus years ago and made 14 trips to canvas neighborhoods and register voters in his state. On those trips, Smith and others reportedly knocked on 70,000 doors. The efforts of the project have increased and expanded to several surrounding states, including Washington. Smith told delegates that an example of a unique voter registration effort in his state happened on Halloween one year, which is typically less than a week prior to the November general election. "You might be too old to trick-or-treat, but you're never too old to trick-or-vote," said Smith.
Smith offered four suggestions for Idaho Democrats to use in both campaign material and public policy work in the future that he believes will make them stand out to voters in the state. Smith said that Democrats should engage in "economic gardening," a process of investing in local businesses instead of working to attract outside companies to the area, as well as lead the state in looking for water infrastructure projects for the future. Democrats should also look to makeIdaho schools more energy efficient, Smith said, by using public bonds to fund projects and then use savings in the energy costs to fund the bonds. Smith also believes that Idaho Democrats could gain notoriety by encouraging public schools to use locally-grown food in cafeterias, which, he said would create jobs and provide more nutritious foods for students.
Smith said that party officials in the Idaho must work to bring in younger voters by changing the party message. He said that instead of talking about low turnout by younger voters in years past, campaign officials must look to 2006, which Smith called the "high-mark" for off-year elections, and talk about how high the turnout was in that electoral cycle. He said that voters will often do something if the majority of the people are doing it. "The best way to get someone to look in the sky is to look in the sky," Smith said.
Younger voters, Smith said, are likely to provide a solid voting base for Democrats in the future if campaign officials are able to reach and educate them on candidates and issues. "We often think of the electorate older than it is," Smith said, pointing to the fact that voters under the age of 30 outvoted those over 65 in the 2008 presidential elections. He also said that officials shouldn't worry about the capability of younger voters to get involved with issues. "The odds that a young person will be the stupidest person in the electorate are very low," said Smith, who described voters under 30 as "our most diverse generation and our potentially most progressive generation in 100 years."
Smith's speech to delegates was part of the party's state convention offering Friday. Delegates heard from the party's candidate for superintendent of public instruction, Stan Olson, at lunch Friday and will hear an address from Keith Allred, the candidate for governor, during Saturday's lunch. Former Democratic Congressman Pat Williams, who represented Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives for eight terms, is slated to appear at the gala banquet Saturday night, an event which will wrap up the weekend's activities.