In less than four weeks, Americans will make decisions up and down the ballot that will impact the future of our communities, our state, and our country. For many, this will be their first time voting. More and more millennials, people born after 1982, are old enough to vote this year. In 2008, 41 percent, or 39 million, millennials were old enough to vote. This year, millennials will number 58 million making up a quarter of the voting age population.
Unfortunately, if the past tells us anything, they will make up a much smaller percentage of voters than 25 percent. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 67 percent of eligible voters who were 30 years old and over turned out to vote compared to 51 percent of voters under 30. Breaking it down even further, only 48.5 percent of eligible 18-24 year olds cast a vote -- many of which are college students. Why are younger voters less likely to vote compared to other age groups?
One of the biggest reasons that young people do not vote is because they don't register to vote at the same rate as older adults. According to CIRCLE, in 2008, 84 percent of 18 to 29 year olds that registered to vote actually voted. The problem is that young people don't register at the same rate as older age groups.
To change this we need to get young people the information they need to register and then to vote. For many in this age group, they have moved from home to go to school in a new community where the rules may be unclear to them. They may be unaware of the voter registration deadlines, what forms they need to fill out, where to get those forms, or how to submit them. Some are confused about their right to vote in their campus community and some have been told they can't. Some are mislead into believing that it could negatively impact student aid, their tax dependency, or their health insurance coverage on their family's plan. What they should know is that according to a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, students have the right to register and vote in their college community. They can also choose to vote "back home" by absentee ballot.
Not only do they need information on how and where they can register to vote, but once they do register, they need information on how to cast a ballot. For students, they may be unaware about rules for voting absentee. If they choose to vote in their new college community, they may not know where their polling location is, whether they can vote early, or what ID, if any they need.
Of course this year, we've also seen some direct attacks on student voting, apparently for partisan gain. Rather than promoting democracy's most cherished right, some politicians have helped pass laws to make it harder for students to register and vote and by requiring IDs that students often don't have. Fortunately, a number of these laws are being overturned in the courts, but students must overcome the confusion sewn by the laws' passage regardless of court decisions.
That is why the Fair Elections Legal Network's Campus Vote Project -- a project dedicated to helping colleges and universities implement programs and policies that encourage students to vote -- is working with campuses across the country to get students the information they need to vote this year. While voter registration deadlines have passed in several states, a number still have registration options including Election Day registration and, in all states, there is still plenty of work to do to get students the information they need to vote this November.
Students, administrators, and election officials can all play an essential role to get students the information they need. Some things they can do include:
- Getting colleges to post student voting information on their websites and emailing all students to let them know where to find the information. The University of Cincinnati has information on its website that provides information on voting and a widget that will help remind students to vote. Florida State University has a website that includes information on how to register and vote as well as announcing events like debate watching parties.
- Providing dorm residents, where it's necessary, ID documents with street addresses needed to vote. Private schools in Ohio are providing zero balance utility bills for their dorm students since utility bills are an accepted ID in Ohio. Letters addressed to voters from state departments also can be used so Ohio State University is sending all students an e-mail with a letter from the Office of the University Registrar with students' current address listed so the letter can be printed out and serve as an ID at the polls on Election Day.
- Provide rides to the polls if the polling location for students living on campus is far away.
- Encourage students to vote early in states that allow early voting.
- Run an election awareness campaign to remind students that the election is approaching.
For more information on voting rules in the states, check out Campus Vote Project's student voter guides that are available at www.campusvoteproject.org/studentguides.