Young Professionals I voted stickers ready to be handed out at the White Oak Precinct. Juice file photo.

I voted stickers ready to be handed out at the White Oak Precinct. Juice file photo.

Will YPs show up to vote in city elections?

Published on November 5th, 2013 | by Josh Hafner

When a then-23-year-old Halley Griess set out to win a Des Moines City Council seat in 2009, there’s one demographic he didn’t rely on: His 20something peers.

Griess, then a Drake University law student, was having trouble even getting people his age he considered friends on campus to register to vote, he said. So he focused his campaign efforts instead on generally older voters with an established pattern of showing up at the polls. It worked. Griess won Des Moines’ Ward 1 seat, a position he’s held since.

“I think it’s really hard to get young people engaged at a city level just because they don’t see the implications of small races,” said Griess, who’s leaving the council at the end of this term to spend more time with family.

Leading up to the Nov. 5 city elections, five young professionals emerged to run for council seats in the metro area. (Sean Bagniewski, 30, and Chris Diebel, 32, campaigned for seats in Des Moines. Shane Isley, 29, and incumbent Kyle Mertz, 31, ran for Altoona council seats. David Lester, 34, competed for a seat in Norwalk.) But analysts and younger voters in the area said getting young adults engaged in local politics is generally a struggle.

Polk County data lists more than 120,000 registered voters in the city of Des Moines. About 5,100 such voters showed up to the polls during the city’s last election in 2011, Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald said. As of Monday, 2,362 voters had requested absentee ballots. About 12 percent of those came from voters ages 18 to 30, records show. Voters ages 65 and above, by comparison, had requested about 43 percent of Des Moines’ early ballots.

Kristen Walker, 24, of Des Moines, was one of the few 20somethings to vote early for her city’s elections.

“I think very few YPs think city elections are important to them,” she said. “Having moved around a lot during and after college, I’ve never been in one place long enough to really care what’s going on in city government, so this is the first city-level election I’ve participated in.”

Getting people in general to turn out to local elections is difficult, said Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford. Young people are especially difficult to turn out because YPs like Walker are often so mobile. They often don’t have children in public schools or a home tied to property taxes, Goldford said, and don’t see a need to engage. And while several young professional organizations have cropped up in central Iowa in recent years, Goldford said he doesn’t see that momentum leading to the poll booth.

Josh Dreyer, a 31-year-old Des Moines resident, said he values city elections because the outcomes will affect the Des Moines of tomorrow and continue the city’s downtown revival that YPs have benefited from.

“We need local government (that) listens to YPs. We’re the ones who will be raising families and working in Des Moines over the next 20 years,” he said.



About the Author

covers young professionals for The Des Moines Register. Josh can be reached at or on Twitter via @joshhafner.

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