Verite News spoke with young voters Ja’Rian Howard and Carson Cruse ahead of the Nov. 18, 2023 runoff election. Credit: Photos provided by Carson Cruse and Ja’Rian Howard

The runoff election Saturday (Nov. 18) will decide three statewide races: attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Now, with the gubernatorial race — decided in the primary election with a historically low turnout — off the ballot, participation in the general election is expected to fall even lower.

However, for some young Louisianians, voting is still as crucial as ever. Verite News spoke with two young voters about what shapes their decision-making at the ballot box and why political engagement is still important for their generation.

‘It doesn’t seem like anybody in politics is talking about it in a meaningful way’

Carson Cruse, 20, is a junior at Loyola University New Orleans studying economics who is active in the school’s Students for a Democratic Society chapter. 

Cruse, whose family is from Louisiana and who has voted locally after starting school in New Orleans, said he first became politically active after witnessing protests against police brutality and racism following the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

His first time at the ballot was the 2022 Congressional midterm election, where incumbent United States Sen. John Kennedy held onto his seat. Cruse voted for a Democratic challenger, Gary Chambers, who came in a distant second to Kennedy, losing by more than 40 points. 

Cruse also voted in the 2023 gubernatorial primary, but like others felt frustrated with the state Democratic party’s efforts in the election.

“As a young voter, and especially as somebody in college, I see attacks on higher education by conservative administrations,” Cruse said. “I see far less economic prospects than what my parents and grandparents received. We’re in kind of an environmental crisis, and it doesn’t seem like anybody in politics is talking about it in a meaningful way.”

Cruse said he believes that young voters are typically forgotten in Louisiana — possibly because they don’t vote as much and are less politically active than their older counterparts. Louisiana has consistently had among the lowest youth turnout nationwide, according to researchers at Tufts University.

‘My ancestors fought for this’

Ja’Rian Howard, 24, is a lifelong resident of New Orleans who remembers voter advocacy groups screaming through megaphones to get out the vote when she was a teenager. 

“At first, I was like, ‘Nah, my vote doesn’t count, my vote is not important, because they’re gonna do what they want to do,’” Howard said. “But as I got older, I understood the importance of voting and the history behind it. My ancestors fought for this.”

In September, Howard became an organizer-in-training for Step Up Louisiana, a grassroots group that advocates for economic and education justice throughout the South.

Howard’s first time voting wasn’t ideal, she said. She had broken her foot just before the 2020 presidential election, but made it a mission to get to the polls anyway.

Howard is most concerned with what she said is a lack of community across the city and the state, pointing to violent crime that has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Howard said education is also one of her biggest concerns as a young voter.

“The children are out of control. The school systems are failing these kids,” Howard said. “It’s a lot to deal with right now as a community.”

Howard voted in this past gubernatorial primary election, though she acknowledged many of her peers didn’t. 

Would-be voters, even older ones, don’t feel like they have a voice anymore, Howard said, a sentiment that has traveled down generationally to young voters as well.

“Wisdom starts with the older adults. These young cats, they don’t really listen to the older folks as they used to because they feel like they got it on their own. But the older cats are not voting, so the young people are like, ‘Why should I vote?’” Howard said. 

‘There’s power within the youth’

Howard thinks a concerted effort from politically engaged young people like herself to mobilize friends, colleagues and classmates could turn the state’s dismal youth voter turnout around. 

Organizations such as the Urban League of Louisiana and Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s Fierce Young Citizens, a new youth voter grassroots organization, are trying to do exactly that.

The two groups recently released a video aimed at young Black voters, riffing off the Disney Channel show “That’s So Raven.” The video gives a glimpse of a hypothetical Louisiana should young Black voters fail to turn out Saturday — a future where Black votes get discounted and Black-owned businesses don’t receive investments.

Gerald “Zeke” Blackwell with Fierce Young Citizens said that a lot of people falsely believe that young people don’t care about voting and political issues.

“They do care. There’s power within the youth,” Blackwell said. 

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

Khalil Gillon is a New Orleans native from Algiers. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School and is a graduate of Louisiana State University in political journalism. Passionate about politics, Gillon ran...