August 6, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
This anniversary, coupled with the upcoming presidential elections, provides a nice backdrop for the Knight Foundation's Knight News Challenge, which recently allocated $3.2 million to 22 organizations. The goal? Informing voters and increasing civic participation before, during, and after elections.
The initiative couldn't come at a better time. According to a study tabulating the results of the first 25 statewide primary elections held in the United States in 2014, voter turnout was the lowest in history, at least since the primary system became the norm after the Second World War.
According to Curtis Gans, who ran the Center for the Study of the American Electorate until his death in March, "Many decades ago citizens turned out to vote out of a sense of civic duty and because of an allegiance to one or other major party. That motivation has largely been lost. The numbers in this report reflect how deeply citizens are turning away from political engagement and from positive feeling about one or another major political party."
Ok, so enough of the depressing news. Let's brighten our sprits by taking a quick look at three of the winners of Knight money.
First up is the Des Moines Register, which netted a $35,000 grant to fund a series of engagement opportunities aimed at millennials and casual political observers, with the goal of getting them more involved in the Iowa caucuses and political cycle. Specifically, the Register will host events such as the "Give a Damn, Des Moines" series and for purchasing a mobile video studio to take on the campaign trail. The "Give a Damn, Des Moines" series includes four events in partnership with the Des Moines Social Club—a voter registration drive, two mock caucuses, and a discussion of important issues that impact younger voters.
Then there's the Rhode Island Department of State, which also scored $35,000 to boost voter participation across the state, particularly among the millennial demographic. And if recent data is any indication, they'll need the help. In 2014, only 17 percent of Rhode Island voters ages 18 to 29 turned out to vote compared to the national average of 21.5 percent.
Lastly, we have William & Mary Law School's "Revive My Vote" initiative, which was awarded $230,000. Created in conjunction with the Williamsburg Bar Association and launched in April 2014, "Revive My Vote" helps Virginians with prior felony convictions who have served their time and are eligible for voting rights restoration to navigate the process of regaining their right to vote.
Taken in total, the winning News Challenge projects include fostering more transparency, campaign financing and enlisting barbershops to spread information on candidates and issues. Ten of the winners receive investments of $200,000 to $525,000 each, while 12 receive $35,000 each.
"The winning projects offer the opportunity to advance journalism innovation, while helping to ensure voters have the information they need to make decisions at the polls and become more involved and engaged in the issues that affect their communities," Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism, said in a statement.