Young voters are showing up for 2024 — and election officials need to be ready
We’re about to see a lot of polls (hello 2024!) that talk about “young voters ages 18-29.” But young voters are not a monolithic group, politically or administratively.
That group, after all, contains all of these people: An 18-year-old Ivy League freshman attending college full-time; a 20-year-old bartender working full-time; a 25-year-old single mother attending community college part-time; and a recently-divorced 29-year-old in cosmetology school.
These people likely do have very distinct political views, only partially influenced by their age. All four would also interact with their local election system — from registering to vote to casting a ballot — in very different ways.
All of this has obvious implications for election administration. In 2018, Michigan kicked off same-day voter registration — that resulted in very long lines of newly eligible kids at the two biggest colleges in the state in 2022, when turnout surged. And while many worried the uptick in changes to voting laws across the country would make it harder for young voters to show up, 2022 marked the second highest turnout in a midterm for young voters in three decades.
Last week, I went to California to moderate a panel on youth voter participation for the Education Writers Association and it had an absolutely all-star lineup: Jonathan Collins, a political scientist at Brown who studies youth voter engagement (especially among black voters); Abby Kiesa, the deputy director for the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University; Courtney Hope Britt, chairman of the College Republican Caucus; and Victor Shi, strategy director for Voters of Tomorrow and Joe Biden’s youngest delegate in 2020.
In a five-minute overview of what we mean when we say “youth voters,” Abby pointed out that only about one-fourth of 18-year-olds are enrolled in college, making it important that both campaigns and election offices target younger voters outside of schools as well as inside of them. Similarly, Jonathan offered that people between the ages of 18 and 29 are plugged into the economy in extremely different ways, meaning that their political values — and resulting eagerness to turn out to vote — will necessarily shift over time.
If you aren’t familiar with CIRCLE or with Jonathan’s research, I recommend both. Though, I was most impressed — sorry to my fellow non-youths on the panel! — with Courtney and Victor. Both were clear-eyed about the ideological divide we face and the impact it’s having on our policies. Courtney pointed out that Republicans largely “don’t think about youth voters” at all. That results in policies that ignore and disadvantage youth at the expense of other communities. Victor explained that most youth voters aren’t Democrats or Republicans, having been dissuaded from engaging by general nastiness. Both were also more coherent and thoughtful than many in their parties several years their senior.
We know that the old trope that “young people don’t vote” is becoming less and less true. Jonathan and Abby (and a bunch of other smart people) believe this category of folk will turn out in 2024, and it makes sense to start thinking about their needs now.
Victor and Courtney are, of course, the type of people journalists tend to go to when selecting younger voters to feature in a piece — extremely politically engaged young people who are formally affiliated with a party. They’ll tell you themselves they don’t represent the norm. Victor, for example, pointed out that most people his age are neither Republicans nor Democrats but classify themselves as independents, skewing the types of voices we hear in their generation further. And Courtney, having started higher education as a community college student, reminded everyone in the room that community college students tend to be far more plugged into the community — and therefore more likely to participate in local elections — than the local university community.
Courtney and Victor both stressed the importance of journalists and election officials speaking to a range of “young” audiences, and encouraged these groups to resist the temptation to do college outreach and assume that will reach all young voters in your community.
“Walk up to people in the grocery store!” said Courtney; “Young people go the same places you do — talk to them,” said Victor.
In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, lowering the federal voting age from 21 to 18. While a majority of Americans supported the move (it followed a pretty public war in which 18-year-old men were drafted), a handful of states — Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah — never took any action on ratifying the amendment. South Dakota symbolically ratified the amendment in 2014. Reads the Argus-Leader of the effort, championed by state Sen. Chuck Jones (R-Flandreau): “Jones also might want to look at the 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition, and also has never been ratified here.”
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Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at email@example.com.
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