July 5, 2008
5 simple ways to increase the youth vote
Much ado is made about the increased participation of the 18-25 demographic in this year’s election but their participation still lags behind that of other age groups. Here are several ways to change election law to make their participation easier.
- Give the office of school guidance counselor in public secondary schools legal status as a designated voter registration agency. That way the voter registration forms can be handed out to students while they are signing up for their class schedule. Then the forms can be sent from the school guidance counselor to the election office. (Louisiana just passed H. 990 to make this happen in that state)
- Allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register so that they are automatically registered to vote when they reach their 18th birthday. If high school juniors and seniors get their paperwork completed well in advance they will be ready and able vote when the next election rolls around. (Rhode Island just passed the “Youth Voting Bill,” H 7106 and S 2081and sent it to the governor for signature)
- Allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the General Election to also vote in the Spring Primary Election. This way their voice can be heard during a contested party primary when excitement is high and they are motivated to participate in support of their candidate. Maryland already has made this a part of their election law, largely because of the efforts of a 17-year-old student who wanted to vote for Barack Obama.
- Allow all voters, including high school and college students, to register to vote up until the close of polls on Election Day. Young people are often in transition during the run-up to election day — starting college, moving to a new city, starting a new job — and often do not pay attention to an upcoming election until the deadline for voter registration has passed. A handful of states (Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota) already allow Election Day Registration — and report the highest voter turnout numbers in the country coupled with virtually no problems with voter fraud.
- Allow high school juniors and seniors to work at the polls. If students can be appointed as official poll workers two problems can be solved at once — greater involvement by high schoolers in the electoral process — and trained replacements for the current crop of aging poll workers, whose median age is in the 70’s in most jurisdictions. (in Rhode Island, H 7833, which allows high school juniors and seniors to be appointed as election officials, has been sent to the governor for signature)
Rock the Vote, Project Vote and similar voter registration outreach efforts have done outstanding work but are frequently hampered by state election laws. If the five simple changes recommended above were to be enacted in all 50 states, their job would be much easier because they would be filling a much smaller gap and we would not have so much handwringing about the low rate of participation by the 18-25 year old demographic.