Expand Youth Voting


After two presidential election cycles where we saw steady increases in youth voter participation, 2008 was the year that young voters really roar.  The primary season saw increases in youth voter participation outstrip the large increases in general participation with turnout tripling or even quadrupling among young people in some states. In the general election youth voted at a rate not seen since 1992 and have increased their turnout 11 points since 2000.  Importantly, people under 30 constitute the most progressive generation in memory.  Therefore, encouraging them to become politically active is a major part of advancing progressive reform.

Voter Pre-registration: Allowing young people to pre-registar at 16 is a very easy but important reform that three states (Hawaii, Florida, and North Carolina) have implemented.  This facilitates youth registration at two highly convenient locations — in school and at the motor vehicles department when applying for a driver's license.  Currently, the majority of voters register when conducting business at motor vehicle departments, and this change will extend that option to younger people as well.  And in doing so it will link in young people's minds the rite of passage of getting a driver's license with that of registering to vote.  Additionally, allowing youth to register increases the salience of civic education as students can register then, not one or two years in the future.  With no cost, this is an easy way to bring more young peole into the election process.

FairVote - Youth Voter Pre-registration

17-year-old primary voting: One way that states and political parties can respond to and further accommodate the growing desire among young people to be engaged citizens is allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to vote in the primaries. There are currently 14 states that allow these voters to participate in all primaries. Additionally, they can participate in the Democratic primary in Alaska, Kansas, North Dakota, and Washington.

It is important to note that passing legislation is only one way to open up these primaries to 17-year-olds. Under the federal constitution, political parties have the right to make their own rules that define who may participate in their primaries. As is evidenced by the four states where one of the major parties has allowed this participation and the other has not, parties can make this change without the input or blessing of the legislature. In fact, even where the state constitution puts an age limit of 18 on voters, the federal constitutional right of the parties supersedes and no constitutional amendment is required for the parties to change their primary eligibility rules.

FairVote — Should 17—Year—Olds Vote in the Primaries?
FairVote — 17—Year—Olds' Voting Rights in Party Primaries
FairVote — Maryland Youth Voting Rights Project

School Based Registration: Designating schools as voter registration agencies under NVRA or allowing guidance counselors to distribute and collect registrations is a convenient way to register young people.  Some states are now contemplating whether to include registration as a requirement for high school graduation.  If this is combined with advance voter registration at age 16, and the requirement was also applied to students dropping out, we would be getting close to universal registration through the schools.

In Louisiana, the House and Senate unanimously passed HB 990, which allows voter registration at offices of public high school guidance counselors.  And the California Legislature passed AB 183, which would make voter registration a requirement for graduation, but the bill was vetoed by the governor.

Progressive State Network — Steps States Can Take to Register Voters and Keep Them Registered
FariVote - Leave No Voter Behind: Seeking 100% Voter Registration and Effective Civic Education
FairVote — Learning Democracy: A Student's Guide to Voting