Policy memo: Challenges and Opportunities for Young Voters in 2018

#LetYoungPeopleVote: Attacks on Youth Voter Access and Solutions for Increased Engagement

By Leigh Chapman, Senior Policy Advisor


Young voters between the ages of 18 and 29[i] have the potential to significantly impact the 2018 and 2020 elections, with a whopping 22 million teens turning 18 by 2020[ii].

The March for Our Lives and National School Walkout are just the latest examples of how this new generation is influencing the national conversation — on gun violence but also on social and political issues ranging from the economy, health care and the environment to immigration, college affordability and voting rights, just to name a few.

Historically, young voters haven’t turned out in large numbers in midterm elections. In 2014, 58 percent of all young registered voters failed to vote — leaving up to 12.4 million ballots uncast and uncounted.[iii] This was the lowest recorded rate of youth voter turnout in the past 40 years.[iv] More young voters participated in the 2016 presidential election, with 24 million or 50 percent of eligible youth casting a ballot.[v]

If young voters exercise their full power at the ballot box, they have the potential to change the outcome of elections. Young people ages 18 to 29 make up 21 percent of the eligible voting population in the U.S., and are expected to make up 40 percent of eligible voters by 2020.[vi]

The young people rising into adulthood and joining the democratic process in the coming years have ample motivation to reverse long-term trends and make their voices heard at the ballot box. With so much media attention lavished on Millennials, it’s important to note this rising cohort of Americans are actually from the nextgeneration. The new voters joining the rolls in 2018 and 2020 are post-millennials: the most diverse generation in American history, with experiences and perspectives shaped to an even larger degree by the social and political upheaval of the post-9/11 era.

Politicians in states like New Hampshire and Arizona recognize the power of the youth vote — but instead of addressing their concerns they’re trying instead to silence and suppress their votes. Young people are standing up, resisting and uncovering the true motivations behind legislation that attacks the youth vote. A recent study by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found 37 percent of Americans under 30 said they would “definitely” vote in the 2018 midterm elections, up from 23 percent who said the same in 2014, and 31 percent in 2010.[vii]

Let America Vote’s Position

Let America Vote continues to fight policies and legislation designed to make it harder for young voters, people of color and low income individuals to vote. We call attention to politicians promoting voter-suppression policies so that no more Americans will become disenfranchised.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) conducted a study aimed at uncovering the reasons why youth are not participating in elections. Among unregistered youth, a majority said they missed voter registration deadlines and that they didn’t know where or how to register.[viii]

Let America Vote is tackling this problem. We recently launched Cap, Gown, Vote!,an initiative aimed at increasing high school voter registration. Through Cap, Gown, Vote!Let America Vote is recruiting student ambassadors who will help register their peers to vote. Encouraging students to register and vote at an early age helps make civic engagement and democratic participation a lifelong habit.

Recent Efforts to Suppress the Youth Vote

After the 2010 election, many states began introducing harsh measures making it harder for people to vote. Overall, 23 states have enacted restrictions creating more onerous voter ID laws, limiting early-voting days and hours and establishing stricter requirements to make it harder for citizens to register to vote.[ix] In addition to these harsh measures, a total of 14 states, including New Hampshire, added new voting restrictions for the first time during the 2016 Presidential Election.[x]

Several states have attempted to roll back voting rights for students. These aren’t good-government efforts, or attempts to improve election administration. These continuous efforts to suppress the voice of young voters are a political response to those voters’ growing impact on the electorate.When youth get out the vote, elections can be substantially influenced in favor of one party, often the Democratic Party.

The following states have either introduced or passed legislation that significantly impedes college students’ right to vote.

New Hampshire

N.H. state Rep. David Bates (R)

The New Hampshire General Assembly introduced several bills attempting to suppress ballot access for young voters, particularly those in college. This effort is in response to President Trump’s false narrative that there was rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election. First, in 2017, the legislature passed SB 3, requiring individuals to provide documentary proof of their intent to be domiciled in New Hampshire in order to register to vote. These new requirements unduly burden students, people of color, low-income residents, and those who recently moved to the state. The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire is currently litigating SB 3.

During the 2018 legislative session, New Hampshire politicians were focused on suppressing the student vote even more, and introduced two bills that would make it harder to vote.

N.H. state Sen. Regina Birdsell (R)

HB 372, introduced by Republican State Rep. David Bates in 2018, is essentially a poll tax placed on college students. And thanks to an amendment from state Sens. Regina Birdsell and James Gray — two notable vote suppressors — it would make the definitions of “residence, inhabitant and domicile” the same for voting purposes — in effect requiring students to either obtain a New Hampshire state ID or driver’s license or register their car within the state. Fortunately, HB 372 failed in committee of conference.

HB 1264 is an identical companion bill to HB 372. HB 1264 passed in both the House and Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu still has the final say. In a recent interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Sununu stated that he “will never support anything that suppresses the student vote.” [xi] But in another recent interview, Sununu said it would be “hard not to sign” the legislation if the New Hampshire Supreme Court finds it to be constitutional. Voting rights activists are organizing to thwart HB 1264 and make sure that Gov. Sununu sticks to his commitment to oppose any bill that suppresses the student vote. As of May 22, Sununu was awaiting a review of HB 1264 by the New Hampshire Supreme Court before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

N.H. Sen. James Gray (R)

Amazingly, HBs 372 and 1264 aren’t even the most extreme bills pushed by New Hampshire Republicans this year. State Rep. Brian Stone introduced HB 1543, which effectively would have barred out-of-state students from voting altogether.[xii] Fortunately, this bill failed.


In 2017, Arizona state Sen. Bob Thorpe — whose district includes Northern Arizona University — introduced a bill with a provision requiring students to vote from the precinct in which they lived before they went to college.[xiii] Because this is presumably the address of their parents, it was meant to dilute the vote of young people who Thorpe refers to as “part-time residents” — even though they live nearly full-time where they go to school.[xiv] While this bill eventually failed, it is a clear example of politicians trying to pick their voters.

Additionally, Thorpe introduced HB 2397, requiring the address at which a voter is registered to match the address on their driver’s license and other state ID. Penalties for failing to meet this unnecessary requirement included a $25 fine and suspension of the voter’s license. Fortunately, the bill failed.


How We Can Get More Young Americans to Participate

Common-sense election reforms — from no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration to pre-registration and registration of 16- and 17-year-olds — can increase youth participation. Some states and municipalities have already adopted such measures.

  1. No-Excuse Absentee Voting: Many states that allow absentee voting only do so under certain circumstances, which vary from state to state. Allowing no-excuse absentee voting would eliminate uncertainty about those rules, making it easier for college students to vote. States that have introduced legislation allowing college students to vote absentee without having to provide an excuse include Virginia, Indiana and Hawaii.
  2. Pre-Registration of 16-and 17 Year-Olds: Some states allow 16-year-olds to pre-register and others allow 17-year-olds to pre-register. The remaining pre-registration states do not establish a specific pre-registration age limit, but instead allow youth to register to vote before the age of 18.[xv] States that permit pre-registration beginning at 16 years old include: California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Utah.[xvi] States that permit pre-registration beginning at 17 years old include: Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and West Virginia.[xvii]
  3. Automatic Voter Registration: After Oregon became the first state to implement automatic voter registration, the number of registered Oregon voters age 18 to 29 increased by 100,000 between the 2012 and 2016 general elections, while the eligible voter population only grew by 12,000.[xviii] Twelve states and the District of Columbia have now enacted automatic voter registration, and in 2018 legislative sessions alone, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington approved AVR laws.[xix] North Carolina this year introduced House Bill 265, which would create automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices, public agencies, community colleges and public four-year colleges and universities.
  4. Lowering the Voting Age to 16: Following the decision of Takoma Park and Hyattsville, Maryland, to lower their voting age to 16, Generation Citizen launched a national campaign — Vote16USA — to lower the voting age to 16.[xx] In Takoma Park, the change was immediate:, turnout rates in 2013 were significantly higher among 16-and 17-olds than those of the overall population.[xxi]

Youth on the Front Lines of the Fight

New Hampshire student activist Haley Bragdon-Clements

With the surge in voter suppression bills, voting rights activists remain busy. One of the primary groups that remain affected by these bills are New Hampshire College students.

Olivia Teixeira and Haley Bragdon-Clements are students at Saint Anselm College where they both major in Politics. Additionally, Olivia and Haley serve as President and Vice President, respectively, of the Saint Anselm College Democrats.

Both Olivia and Haley constantly find themselves fighting bad bills that have been intentionally introduced to suppress college students vote. They’re currently leading the fight against HB 372, the bill discussed above which requires a voter to register their car or obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license.

New Hampshire student activist Olivia Teixeira

Working with the New Hampshire Young Democrats (NHYD), Haley has helped create video testimonies of students on campus who are opposed to the bill.

“As someone who was always looking forward to turning 18 so I could finally vote, it’s discouraging to see so many bills introduced here in New Hampshire to make it harder for me to exercise my constitutional right to the ballot,” Haley said.

Working with groups like NHYD and the ACLU of New Hampshire to push back against HB 372 as well as engage the student community showed Olivia the importance of using her voice.

“I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is that being silent and having your opinion isn’t as effective as a lot of people think it is,” Olivia said. “So it’s really important to speak out and use your voice and actually stand up for what you believe in, because if you don’t stand up for what you believe in, who is going to?”

Olivia and Haley are two young Democrats fighting for their right to be heard and the right of their peers to vote.


Do you want to help increase youth voter engagement, and push back against laws aimed at make it harder for students to vote? Let America Vote has opportunities in key electoral battlegrounds and all across the country to get involved:

  • Join the Let America Vote team as an intern. Knock doors and activate voters in one of our five target states this summer or fall. You’ll learn how a professional campaign operation is run, help elect great candidates, and be a critical grassroots advocate for protecting our constitutional right to vote! Visit apply.
  • Sign up to be a Student Ambassador with Cap, Gown, Vote! (CGV) — a national initiative Let America Vote launched across the country to increase voter registration among high school students. Check out the CGV advocacy toolkitfor how to get involved.
  • Get active no matter where you are with our Distributed Organizing Program. We’ll be hosting house parties, phonebanks, canvasses and many more activities to hold vote suppressors accountable — in our key states and across the country. Sign up online and someone from our field team will help you get plugged into the operation.


[i] For the purposes of this case study, youth voters are defined as voters ages 18–29.

[ii] The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), March 23, 2018,

[iii] 2014 Youth Turnout and Youth Registration Rates Lowest Ever Recorded; Changes Essential in 2016, CIRCLE,

[iv] Id.

[v] Youth Voting, CIRCLE,

[vi] Id.

[vii] Harvard Institute of Politics Spring 2018 Youth Poll,

[viii] Teens and Elections, CIRCLE,

[ix] New Voting Restrictions in America, BRENNAN CTR. FOR JUST.,

[x] Id.

[xi] Governor Sununu I Will Never Support Anything that Suppresses the Student Vote, New Hampshire Public Radio, December 12, 2017,

[xii] New Hampshire, HB 1543 (2018),

[xiii] Lawmaker seeks to bar college students from voting at schools they attend,, June 15, 2017,

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Registration for Young Voters,

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] RELEASE: Automatic Voter Registration Is a Win For Millennials And Our Country’s Democracy As a Whole, Center for American Progress, July 19, 2017,

[xix] Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States, BRENNAN CTR. FOR JUST. ,Apr. 11, 2018,

[xx] VOTE16USA: A CAMPAIGN TO LOWER THE VOTING AGE, Generation Citizen, December 21,2015,

[xxi] 16- and 17-Year-Olds Vote for First Time in Takoma Park, PROMOTE OUR VOTE, Nov. 6, 2013,