Tara Mild has already taken advantage of her first opportunity to vote for the person she believes should be the next president of the United States.

The 21-year-old Bergen County resident, a senior at The College of New Jersey, won't be casting her vote at a routine polling place on Nov. 3, but she still felt a rush placing her ballot in a drop box within her hometown.

"Whether it's the presidential election or just with my local election that's happening as well, it made me feel like I'm actually doing something that could help the future of the place I'm living in," Mild said. "I was really excited to get in the car and just go drop my ballot off."

Mild has been part of a push at TCNJ to increase voter registration and voter turnout among youth for the 2020 election.

Calls to action at higher education institutions across the state have been limited by the COVID-19 public health crisis. Many events, such as "text bank" gatherings, have occurred remotely over video conference platforms. But staff and students feel there may be enough excitement and/or concern over this election to overcome any decrease in on-campus events.

"It's becoming more important to talk about these issues, especially with the racial climate in this country," Mild said.

Voter turnout among those aged 18-29 jumped from 11% in the 2014 midterm election to 33% four years later in the Garden State, according to data released by the Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement.

"You now have millions of young voters this year who already have experience voting, and we know that people who've voted before are more likely to vote this year," said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

Add to that the ease of casting a vote in 2020 — this election is working primarily by mail. While residents have the option to cast their vote in person using paper provisional ballots, every registered voter has received a ballot in the mail.

"It's almost like there's no excuse, right?" Rasmussen said. "You have the ballot in your hand. All you have to do is get it back in."

According to political data firm TargetSmart, more than 256,000 New Jersey voters in the 18-29 age range have already submitted their ballots, compared to about 27,600 in 2016. Late Sunday, Gov. Phil Murphy noted on Twitter that more than 2.5 million ballots had been received, which means the Garden State has already surpassed its voter turnout of 63% in 2016.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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