‘The young vote becomes the old vote, eventually, and lasts for generations’

Georgia Young Voters: (From left) Niles Francis, Colt Chambers, Hannah Payne, Kiana Jackson, Edward Aguilar and Michael Giusto.
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Georgia Young Voters: (From left) Niles Francis, Colt Chambers, Hannah Payne, Kiana Jackson, Edward Aguilar and Michael Giusto.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Georgia’s youth are politically engaged.

Young voters in Georgia made their voices heard in the 2020 presidential election.

Georgia had one of the highest turnouts in the nation for voters between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Tuft University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

About 15% of Georgia voters were born after 1991, according to data analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

We spoke to six young people who are actively engaged in Georgia politics.

“We're not pushing a set of ideals; we're pushing for the best of Black people."

- Kiana Jackson, Georgia regional organizer for the Black Voters Matter Fund
Kiana Jackson, 23, is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and the Georgia regional organizer for the Black Voters Matter Fund. Her family was concerned when she got involved in politics, but she eventually won them over. In 2018, she registered her 50-year-old father to vote. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Kiana Jackson, 23, is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and the Georgia regional organizer for the Black Voters Matter Fund. Her family was concerned when she got involved in politics, but she eventually won them over. In 2018, she registered her 50-year-old father to vote. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Kiana Jackson, 23, is on a mission to get African Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The Albany native, who is pursuing a master’s degree in data analytics and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, currently serves as the Georgia regional organizer for the Black Voters Matter Fund.

“One thing I have appreciated about working in politics within (the Black Voters Matter Fund) is I’ve been allowed to cater my approach to my community,” Jackson said. “We’re not pushing a set of ideals; we’re pushing for the best of Black people.”

Jackson says her family was wary about her stepping into politics because of the history of racism in southwest Georgia and the power wealth is rumored to hold in influencing local elected officials.

She continued her involvement and eventually nurtured an interest within her family.

In 2018, Jackson registered her father to vote in his first election.

He was 50 years old.

“A lot of my family has gotten into politics, where they’re sitting up all night watching speeches,” Jackson said. “(They’ve) created Twitter (accounts) just to follow politics.”

Jackson prays to one day be in a position to create public policy because she says that is the only way to effect change in her community.

“Because I’ve spent so much time on the ground talking to people, I know that whenever I do get in a position to write policy, I know what the people on the ground need,” she said.

“I just believe that it's so vital that young people like me decide to step up and take action — essentially pick up the torch that our parents and grandparents are going to eventually leave behind for us."

- Colt Chambers, statewide chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans
Colt Chambers, 25, is the statewide chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans. He first got involved in politics by knocking on more than 11,000 doors to support Donald Trump's run for president in 2016. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Colt Chambers, 25, is the statewide chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans. He first got involved in politics by knocking on more than 11,000 doors to support Donald Trump's run for president in 2016. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Colt Chambers wants voters to be engaged.

When he was 20 years old, Chambers says, he logged over 11,000 doors knocked for Donald Trump and the Republican Party by himself.

It was the 2016 presidential election cycle, and Chambers was electrified about getting Trump in the White House.

It was Chambers’ first time being engaged in politics.

“Trump announced that he was running for president in June 2015,” Chambers said. “And from the very beginning, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get involved and help this man get elected.’ ”

During this same time, Chambers was attending county GOP meetings in his hometown of Rome.

He said he noticed that he was the only young person in the room and questioned how he could change that.

After learning about the Georgia Young Republicans, Chambers relaunched the Rome chapter of the organization and served as chairman for two years.

Chambers, 25, is currently serving his second term as statewide chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans.

“Not everyone has to be as involved as I am. And I don’t know that I would encourage that,” Chambers said, jokingly referring to how politics have consumed his day-to-day life.

This year, through an intense ground operation, Chambers says the Georgia Young Republicans made contact with 800,000 voters between January and the general election.

The organization also made a big push to reach young people to encourage them to vote, Chambers said.

“I just believe that it’s so vital that young people like me decide to step up and take action — essentially pick up the torch that our parents and grandparents are going to eventually leave behind for us,” Chambers said.

“Like John Lewis used to say, ‘If you see anything that's not right, you have an obligation to speak out.'"

- Niles Francis, election forecaster for Decision Desk HQ
Niles Francis, 19, is election forecaster for Decision Desk HQ. He has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, and the 20,000-plus followers on his Twitter account include local and national political journalists. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Niles Francis, 19, is election forecaster for Decision Desk HQ. He has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, and the 20,000-plus followers on his Twitter account include local and national political journalists. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

Niles Francis wants voters to be informed.

Francis, 19, is an election forecaster for Decision Desk HQ, a website that focuses on reporting election results across the nation.

Francis uses software and data collected from sites such as the secretary of state’s office to create election maps.

These maps turn a jumble of numbers into information that his social media audience, often referred to as “Election Twitter,” can easily digest.

He has been a commentator on MSNBC and has amassed a following of more than 20,000 people on his personal Twitter page, including local and national political journalists.

“At times, it can be overwhelming, but I do enjoy the experience,” Francis said. “I get to learn from it, and others get to learn from it, as well.”

He says his favorite part about politics is watching the results come in.

On election night Francis was glued to his computer, eyeing the results while his grandmother watched votes come in on CNN.

The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis is someone Francis admires.

“If not for him, I probably wouldn’t even have the right to vote,” Francis said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis cast his first vote for the 2020 presidential primary election by way of an absentee ballot in Cobb County.

He voted for Joe Biden.

“My advice to every young person, everyone who’s my age, just like, you know, register to vote,” Francis said. “Like John Lewis used to say, ‘If you see anything that’s not right, you have an obligation to speak out.’ ”

“The young vote becomes the old vote, eventually, and lasts for generations."

- Hannah Payne, a senior at the University of Georgia
Hannah Payne, 21, senior student at the University of Georgia. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Hannah Payne, 21, senior student at the University of Georgia. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Hannah Payne is fascinated by how political messaging can influence voters.

Payne, 21, grew up in Rome watching political debates with her father.

She says in the fourth grade she told her teachers who she thought they should vote for in the 2008 presidential election.

“The joke among my friends (is) that if we’re hanging out on any given night, politics will probably come up,” Payne said.

Payne is a senior at the University of Georgia, where she is studying public relations with a focus on public affairs.

During her time at UGA, Payne served as a freshman senator with the student government and then as its communications director.

She also worked on the Kemp for Governor campaign and interned with U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Payne says it is important for politicians to invest in the young vote.

“The young vote becomes the old vote, eventually, and lasts for generations,” Payne said.

A positive message to Payne was Gov. Brian Kemp’s nomination of Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate.

“I think it’s such a powerful message that Gov. Kemp appointed a woman in that position,” Payne said. “Pretty historic things are happening, and I’m excited about it. I think there’s room for growth. It just takes some strong women who are excited and ready to get involved.”

“We are trying to make more and more people politically aware in hopes that when they grow older, that they'll become politically active and run for office."

- Edward Aguilar, co-founder of Students for Tomorrow
Seventeen-year-old Edward Aguilar, left, and 18-year-old Michael Giusto are co-founders of Students for Tomorrow. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Seventeen-year-old Edward Aguilar, left, and 18-year-old Michael Giusto are co-founders of Students for Tomorrow. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

High schoolers Michael Giusto and Edward Aguilar are discovering how technology and the power of persuasion can enlighten young voters.

This year Aguilar, Giusto and two other students, while juggling schoolwork during a pandemic, created Students for Tomorrow.

The organization, formerly called Students for 2020, started out as a desire to inform college students who were studying in another state where their vote mattered the most in the 2020 presidential election.

The organization has shifted its focus on getting Democrat Jon Ossoff elected in his U.S. Senate runoff.

The group has held voter registration drives, participated in phone banking and hosted town halls.

Aguilar, 17, says one of its main goals is to persuade young voters to vote for Ossoff by explaining his policies.

“We really feel that if you have a large group of Republicans and Democrats in the same room together, and they’re all students, and you sit down and you go through all the policies of both candidates, we 100% believe at the end of the day most people will side with Ossoff because they’ll realize that he’s really the only one who’s actually had a substantial amount of student-first policies,” Aguilar said.

“We are trying to make more and more people politically aware in hopes that when they grow older, that they’ll become politically active and run for office,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar will have to wait for another election to vote, but Giusto plans to cast an absentee ballot as one of the more than 20,000 18-year-olds in Georgia who became eligible to register to vote for the Senate runoffs.