NextGen Virginia registers 20,000+ college voters following phone controversy

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Following controversy over obtaining college student's personal information this year, the election company NextGen Virginia is calling the 2017 election a success.

But some students are still concerned how they even received texts to vote.

The company filed a Freedom of Information Act request to both Virginia Tech and Radford University to obtain the phone numbers. Then texts could be sent reminding students to vote and, at times, recommending who to vote for.

But despite questions about the practice, the organization is celebrating following Tuesday's election.

Emma Ruby is a Virginia Tech Sophomore and a Deputy Campus Organizer for NextGen.

She explained, "NextGen did everything we could to turn out those student voters and as you can see, looking at the numbers, it was a success. All these students came out to vote and they came out in large numbers to vote for Democrats, so I would call it a success."

NextGen said, across the 26 campuses they were on, the organization spent $3.3 million, had 60 people on the ground, knocked on 350,000+ doors, sent more than 700 thousand pieces of mail, and 300 thousand plus text messages.

But they said it worked as 20,168 students registered to vote, and 10,454 committed to vote, following 1,825,805 young voters were reached with digital ads.

Kendra Sabol, a Virginia Tech Senior said she received around five text messages.

"I think it's really good just because college kids tend to not really get out to the polls as much," she said. "I believe it had a link in it to go register to vote so it made it really easy, in case people didn't know how to register."

Junior Emily Copenhaber, who received two texts, added, "Texting is good because we're always on our phones and so it's really easy just to have it pop up and read it really quickly."

But not all students were happy they were getting texts without ever signing up for anything.

Patrick O'Malley is a freshman who said he got around five text messages.

He said, "I just ignored it every single time. But I'd always block the number because I don't know how they got my number. But then I'd keep getting it, and it was generally pretty annoying."

Sophomore Kinsey Cox recalled three texts she got.

She said, "I told the first guy not to text me and to take my name off the list and I got another text from a different number, and then another text from him. But I was going to vote for who I was going to vote for, it didn't change anything."

Ruby said NextGen registered more than 3,000 voters on Virginia Tech's campus. And they were planning for the 2018 election as early as the night before Tuesday's Election Day.

Their hope for the future is to be present on college campuses all across the country.

NextGen said in a press release Thursday, "If anger at Donald Trump and the GOP continues to drive turnout up through the 2018 election cycle, when young people will be the largest bloc of eligible voters, we could be looking at a progressive wave powered by millennial voters. Importantly, this sort of young voter revolt requires mass investment like NextGen’s in Virginia, as young people in New Jersey didn’t increase their turnout, as the chart below shows. Progressives must capitalize on this opportunity to increase young voter turnout and NextGen looks forward to leading the charge."

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