Kellen Edmondson is a 25-year-old who works as the Field Director for HeadCount, a non-partisan, non-profit organization in the USA dedicated to getting young people to vote.
Since watching Barack Obama’s poise and respect for the office of the presidency, Edmondson has been interested in politics. As he started to see the ways politics influenced his everyday life, he started to grow more invested.
Edmondson turned his dream into a reality after graduating from Dickinson College with a dual degree in Political Science and American Studies. Since then, he has participated in multiple political activities, such as campaigning for local politicians and working at an international Democracy nonprofit.
Now, Edmondson coordinates on the ground efforts to register young voters everywhere, from music festivals to local cultural events.
Edmondson pursued work at HeadCount after learning about the young voting problem. “Young people are typically seen as apathetic and unlikely to turn out, but with HeadCount, we bring our ability to garner the attention of young people with the artists that we work with,” Edmondson said.
There are many reasons why young people might be reluctant to vote in the 2020 election, but one of the most prominent reasons is due to the two major party candidates. Because both are older and White males, it becomes difficult for a more diverse, younger population to relate. However, Edmondson wants to combat this mentality too. “Politics are so rooted in personality,” he said, “but at the end of the day, the most important thing is not the personality, but what values and policies that person stands for.” While it may be discouraging for younger voters to see their candidates not represent them, electing the right politicians into office can establish a better future, one where there is more diversity and equality.
HeadCount’s website provides a range of resources to help voters understand which candidate fits their needs best. Voters can access a “Who’s on Your Ballot” resource so they can learn more about your federal, state and local candidates. Furthermore, Edmondson recommends using BallotPedia for specific policy issues you might want to support or vote against. Furthermore, voters can access solutions for the mail-in ballot controversy. HeadCount provides numerous resources so voters can pinpoint which system works the best for them.
But, HeadCount has found that the best way to combat the young voting issue is from the ground up. They partner with artists in a variety of ways, from setting up booths at concerts, to directly contacting different artists to talk about the importance of voting. Whether artists are on stage or using their social media platforms, relying on the intersections of pop culture and politics drives many people to the polls. HeadCount doesn’t stop there, as they recruit young voters from around the country to campaign for them, emphasizing the movement’s grassroots-based origins. “Getting young people to talk to friends about the issue of not going to the polls is important,” he said, “not necessarily to win the argument, but to at least have the conversation.”
This effort extends beyond mainstream artists and communities too. HeadCount is growing a bigger, more diverse base of smaller artists as well. “By working with more diverse artists, we can bring in audiences that become more and more diverse as well,” Edmondson said.
The process, however, is twofold. Apart from just working with artists, Edmondson also aims to register voters through a branch of HeadCount called United We Vote. United We Vote is a youth-run coalition that targets minority communities to encourage voting, often by showing up at local and cultural festivals. These youth-led, community groups allow those without prior knowledge of voting to register and start using their voice.
This all changed with the pandemic. Edmondson went from registering voters at many on the ground events, to finding solutions online.
Now, instead of artists using a stage as their platform, HeadCount sets up Instagram lives to engage with artists. In forty-five minute sessions, the artists can discuss issues they care about, talk about their voting plans and show off their musical talents. HeadCount also sets up a series of contests with their communities. If fans can show proof of voter registration, they are entered into lotteries to win zoom calls or other special activities with some of their favorite artists. Registering to vote becomes more about having fun and less about being a chore. Some big-name artists HeadCount has cooperated with include Billie Eilish and Camila Cabello.
Due to all the uncertainty surrounding the election, Edmondson has a few words of advice: “My biggest piece of advice for first-time voters is to first off, register to vote and secondly, fully think through how you’re going to be voting. Figure out what works best for you and stick by that plan.” Despite any noise or information, he urges you to go out and vote.
“People should vote because right now, more than any other time, you’re seeing the importance of who you elect. In the response to the coronavirus, climate change, racial injustice and gun violence, these are all issues that elected officials have control over. The words that come out of these elected official’s mouths matter. More than ever, there is an importance to elect officials that you think will make your life better.”
Featured Image courtesy of Kellen Edmondson.