Laurel Bault's father became a U.S. citizen when she was 10 years old and she grew up with a very clear understanding of the importance of voting.
Unlike some of her friend's parents, Bault's father -- a Canadian immigrant -- treated voting as a right and a duty, instilling in her a fascination with civic engagement.
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"The democratic process has always captivated me," Bault said.
The Elgin woman has teamed up with a coalition from Kane, DuPage and suburban Cook counties to re-engage women ages 18 to 30 in advance of the 2012 election.
As the education chairwoman of the Elgin Area League of Women Voters, Bault was invited to the American Association of University Women state convention in April for a workshop about the It's My Vote: I Will be Heard campaign. Soon after, she connected with Nicki Skogfeldt, the Elgin AAUW contact for the campaign, and the pair launched a tri-county effort to get young woman millennials back into politics.
"I've just been frustrated by low voter turnout," Bault said about why she got involved. "We're giving our power away and we need to take responsibility for that."
Bault sees groups like the AAUW and the League of Women Voters as particularly responsible for encouraging civic engagement.
While women's reproductive rights have taken their turn at center stage in national politics in recent months, Bault said it's the "pocketbook issues" that women care about most -- education and the economy. Women millennials make up the largest voting block in the country and many are graduating from college burdened with incredible student loan debt into an economy in which they can't find jobs.
But a hopeful point in the picture for Bault is the idea that polls show millennials are passionate about restoring democracy and committed to justice issues. She said it's very likely the 18-30 age group that will get the country back on track.
"And by God, we have a responsibility to help them do that and mentor them to become the generation that can restore our democracy," Bault said.
The AAUW-sponsored get out the vote campaign plans to reach millennials where they live, work, learn and play, offering information about candidate's positions on major issues and registering voters. The initiative is nonpartisan -- a point of pride for Bault.
Volunteer organizers for the campaign represent both major parties and are committed to working together above the polarized atmosphere of modern politics. The priority is making everyone's voice heard.
"If we can set aside our ideologies and just really focus on rebuilding our democracy, this campaign can really be a good role model," Bault said.
With low-voter turnout an issue nationally, but even more striking in municipal elections, Bault said the key to this campaign will be in forging relationships to keep millennials involved beyond the 2012 presidential election.
It's not just one race but U.S. democracy at the heart of the local organizing. Bault said the small group of voters making decisions that affect everyone at the polls is a problem for elected officials and for entire communities. When citizens pass on their right to vote, the gap in engagement is filled by outside interests seeking power.
"We've complained that they've stolen our democracy, but really we've abdicated our role," Bault said.
It's My Vote: I Will be Heard directly addresses the lack of political participation. And the fledgling coalition across Kane, DuPage and suburban Cook counties will be in need of volunteers from now until November.
Subcommittees have been formed for all aspects of the campaign, including voter registration, candidate forums, phone banks and canvassing efforts. Volunteers will continue to conduct outreach and strategize this summer for the August-to-November election push.
For details contact Bault at (224) 587-3611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Skogfeldt can be reached at (847) 707-4167 or email@example.com.