Election Laws and Young Voter Turnout

This month CIRCLE released a report on the effects of state voter registration laws on young voter turnout.

The report shows that Election Day Registration (EDR) had the greatest effect in the November 2008 election in increasing youth turnout.

Election Day registration laws (EDR) allow voters to avoid the inconvenience and pressure of registration deadlines. As of 2008, nine states (Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day. In a 2003 study about the 2000 Presidential Election, it was found that turnout was, on average, 14 percentage points higher among 18- to 24-year-old youth in states that had EDR. EDR may also decrease the disparity between younger and older voters. Before implementing EDR, Idaho, New Hampshire, and Wyoming were among the worst states in terms of turnout inequality between younger and older Americans. After EDR laws took effect, all three states decreased this gap dramatically. Wyoming, for example, moved from 39th place to the 7th smallest turnout gap.

What is so impressive is how dramatic the effect of EDR was in increasing turnout (emphasis added):

After controlling for effects of educational attainment, gender, marital status, age, race, and ethnicity, young people whose home state implemented EDR were 41% more likely to vote in the November 2008 election than those who did not have residence in the EDR states.

The report also shows that no-excuse absentee voting/vote by mail most likely had a strong effect, 23% of young voters voted absentee, however CIRCLE was “not able to estimate how the use of this strategy impacts state-by-state turnout since many young people, such as college students, live outside of their home state.” In-person absentee voting was appeared to be a convenience to young voters who were already planning to vote, but CIRCLE does not believe that its availability turned young voters out that were not already determined to vote.

Extended polling hours resulted in an increase in the turnout of young workers and part-time students, but did not seem to have much of an effect on full-time students.

The general theme of the report is one that we often discuss in the youth political community: that lowering the barriers to voting will increase turnout. Youth organizations should be working with state legislators to reform their elections processes and enact some or all of the policies mentioned in the report, as well as others, such as online registration and permanent vote-by-mail.