Editor’s note: This article has been updated to add that NextGen did try to contact Magargal and Kravitz on Oct. 6 to inform them of voting registration issues after they did not show up on the rolls.
Still reeling from voting registration issues during the 2018 midterm elections, Lehigh students consider alternative ways to register while NextGen America regains its footing for the 2020 presidential election.
NextGen America, an organization that serves as an intermediary for people to register to vote, visited Lehigh’s campus to encourage students to register. However, when some of these students got to the voting polls near campus on Election Day, they were denied upon learning they were never officially registered in Northampton County.
Zoe Kravitz, ’20, and Liam Magargal, ’22, were unable to vote, and both said they have received no explanation for why this was the case.
“After contacting (NextGen) the first time it happened, I got no response,” Kravitz said.
The second time, Kravitz said she received an email from NextGen that offered no reasoning behind the registration issues, and the organization did not hold itself responsible.
Olivia Bercow, the deputy communications director for NextGen, said after they enter all of the information into their own system to track who registers, the registration forms are given to the county clerks, who transfer them into the voter roll.
Bercow said it’s the responsibility of the county clerks to do a better job getting in contact with people who didn’t get on the voter rolls.
“Of course, we want to make sure that moving forward, we are building stronger relationships with the town clerks and that we’re also calling on the town clerks to make sure that if a student from Lehigh University registers through us, and we turn in their form and something is wrong with their form, that they’re also working to call that student and make sure that they understand they need to fix their voter registration,” Bercow said. “Just like we do.”
A representative from the Northampton County Board of Elections said she is unaware of any issues on their end with registration. All forms they received were processed, which included those through NextGen, she said.
In 2018 alone, NextGen registered over 40,000 Pennsylvanians, who all had to be processed by the clerks, Bercow said. She said the organization may talk to the state or Gov. Tom Wolf to make sure there are enough people to process these forms correctly to ensure this problem doesn’t happen again.
This is not the first instance of voting registration issues for NextGen.
Bercow said there was a similar problem in the Lehigh Valley in 2016. She said more safeguards and policies were put into place, and volunteers and staff were well-trained on proper procedures.
“This is not just a Lehigh Valley issue,” Bercow said. “It’s a statewide issue. We have other voter registration partners who face similar issues where they register voters.”
Kravitz said she doesn’t think NextGen should be attempting to register people if the organization can’t figure out what exactly went wrong and why there were issues. She said people are putting their trust in NextGen by registering through them, so they should be able to vote on Election Day.
Magargal said people should register directly through the government instead because NextGen has an inefficient system that shouldn’t be relied on.
“I know I won’t be registering with them next time,” Magargal said. “I told a lot of people; I told my family about this…I’m pretty vocal about how much I really don’t like the organization.”
NextGen was founded by Tom Steyer, an outwardly spoken Democrat, and Bercow said they have always supported Democrats and their views. The voter registration, though, Bercow said, is completely nonpartisan, yet students of all political parties received messages leading up to the elections from NextGen pushing their own views and support for specific candidates.
Bercow said NextGen does work to elect progressive candidates, but Need to Impeach, a movement by Democrats to impeach Trump and also founded by Steyer, is a separate organization.
Kravitz said her friend who registered through NextGen also didn’t get to vote but was going to vote against the organization’s political views. She received texts urging her to vote for a specific Democratic candidate.
“It’s annoying to me that they were sending texts, they were really trying to push an agenda that they had clear intentions that weren’t just trying to get the youth involved,” Magargal said.
Kravitz said it appeared to her that volunteers who were registering students seemed passionate about voting, and the organization never tried to conceal the fact that they were left-leaning.
Bercow said NextGen is focused on raising young voter turnout, especially in an important state like Pennsylvania in the 2020 elections.
NextGen registered 3,730 voters in Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district, Bercow said. Lehigh student turnout in the midterms drastically increased compared to 2014.
“Our goal as an organization is to expand the electorate to get more young people voting, and yet we were incredibly disappointed to hear that there were folks that registered with us who didn’t make it on to the voter rolls,” Bercow said. “That’s never our intention. We want young people voting.”
Kravitz said students should be notified early on if there are any issues with the voting registration.
A Northampton County Board of Elections representative said voters can go online to immediately check when their voter cards will be arriving, if they were registered, or if their forms were declined because of missing information or a missing signature. As long as an email is provided, those with any registration form issues will be contacted.
Magargal said in order for people to actually get registered and be able to vote for the next election, he wants people to know not to go through NextGen.
“I hope that if people are registering to vote through NextGen, they are actually getting registered because the feeling — especially in these big elections — the feeling of your right to vote has been stolen from you is such a bad feeling, and it’s just such a crappy situation,” Kravitz said. “I hope either they no longer are attempting to register people, or they are getting their stuff together.”