Drew Angerer | Getty Images
A group founded by billionaire Tom Steyer is shifting its focus toward educating young voters in key states on how to use mail-in ballots as more states expand that option in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The goal for the Steyer-funded group, NextGen America, is partly to help voters overcome potential hurdles to voting by mail that could arise from significant changes recently enacted at United States Postal Service.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has been under fire from Democratic lawmakers over those changes, promised to suspend any further actions, including reduced overtime and the removal of high-speed sorting machines, to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail,” he said Tuesday.
The new phase of the campaign is part of a $45 million commitment by NextGen to help Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeat President Donald Trump in November. The organization’s overall effort targets voters in at least 11 states, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Steyer, a billionaire with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion, spent more than $200 million on a presidential campaign that ended after the South Carolina primary. He has since endorsed Biden.
Polls taken by NexGen suggest that, while many young voters do want to participate in 2020 via mail-in ballots, some don’t fully understand how to do so. The progressive nonprofit organization is pushing ahead with a number of new initiatives to rectify that.
Ben Wessel, NextGen’s executive director, says the group plans to send 600,000 postage-paid voter registration forms to young voters in the next two weeks. It’s creating virtual field offices on Slack for volunteers in targeted states, in order for them to “reach out to their friends via text to request vote by mail ballots,” he said. It also released a new show on YouTube titled “Convince Me,” that he says will touch on how voters can successfully vote by mail.
Steyer told CNBC in a recent interview that he believes the focus on mail-in balloting should be about educating voters on how to go about using the mail system as a way to vote. He pointed to NextGen’s recent voter outreach through phone text messages with information on how to best receive a mail ballot.
“I think a lot of this is about voter education about how to vote by mail,” Steyer said. “A couple of weeks ago, NextGen America did a day of action and contacted directly, with the help of 6,000 volunteers and organizing other organizations to help us, 3.7 million people in one day. NextGen America only contacted 11 million in all of 2016. We did a third of that in one day.”
Steyer also discussed the work being done by Give Green, a joint fundraising effort between NextGen, LCV Victory Fund and NRDC Action Fund PAC. The groups support more than a dozen candidates, including Biden himself, who they believe has polices that can successfully take on climate change. Steyer told CNBC that Give Green has raised at least $30 million in direct contributions for their candidates.
In July, NextGen tapped pollsters at Global Strategy Group to survey just over 1,000 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34 in critical states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Texas. Among the findings: 38% of participants said they are likely to vote by mail in 2020 while 36% said they would likely vote in person.
Still, the poll suggests that many voters aren’t familiar with the ways to secure a ballot and vote by mail.
Only 42% said they are “familiar with the mail and absentee ballot deadlines” in their states while 47% of those polled said they “understand what I need to do to get a mail ballot in order to vote by mail or absentee.”