Alex Blaze

The Youth Vote: Why it doesn't get out

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 06, 2008 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, polling, voting, youth vote

Michael Connerly over at The Nation discusses some of the structural disadvantages the youth have when it comes to voting:

--Deadlines/Timing: Voter registration deadlines often fall in September or early October, right at the beginning of the school year. This is the busiest time of the year for many young people, who are acclimating to a new environment, and colleges and universities do very little to encourage student voter registration.

--Poll Access: Students often lack convenient access to polling locations. In Ohio in 2004, students faced lines of up to 12 hours due to a lack of voting machines on or near campus. Some of those voters waited in line only to discover that their registration had been purged from the voter rolls. In 2006 at Prairie View A&M in Texas, students had to walk 7 miles to the nearest polling place to cast their ballot.

--Transience: Students and young people are far more mobile than older voters. Many move to new residences from year to year, requiring that they register anew after each move.

--Lack of Attention: On the whole, young people have received far less attention from political campaigns and parties. For decades it was literally the policy of most campaigns to cut anyone under 30 off of their "walk lists." We know that in person, peer to peer contact is the most effective way to drive someone to the polls. Absent that attention from candidates and campaigns - attention which is showered on voters the older they get - it's no wonder that fewer and fewer young people make it to the polls.

--Fewer opportunities overall: This is sort of the no-brainer of the group, but young people have had fewer chances to register to vote than have older voters. This is a situation not likely to change unless some form of compulsory, or automated, voter registration is enacted at the national level.

As part of "the youth vote," I can vouch for some of those. Changing addresses and often not even knowing where I'm going to be come November all get in the way of preparing to vote. As a recent college graduate, I know that many people think they aren't allowed to vote at college (they are) and that polling places are sometimes inconveniently located (mine my last year at Whitman was about 3 miles away)

Fortunately I'm registered and I follow these issues enough to be motivated to vote, but it takes a much larger commitment from a young person to want to vote than any other age group.

While same-day registration could solve a lot of these problems (as well as mail-in ballots), I don't think we should be expecting those solutions any time soon. Democracy issues at the state-level are moving in the opposite direction, towards disenfranchisement. States are requiring more and more paperwork to vote, birth certificates, state ID's (but only from the state you're voting in, effectively disenfranchising people who move and college students at school), proof of citizenship, all for non-existent voter fraud. It's a concerted effort to put enough effective barriers between people and voting to keep people away, to make it confusing enough that provisional ballots get handed out and circular filed later, and to make it difficult enough that people throw up their hands and decide it's not worth the trouble.

And attorneys who refuse to prosecute bogus charges get fired, since it has absolutely nothing to do with preventing voter fraud and everything to do with keeping traditionally Democratic demographics home, like the poor, minorities, and, here, the youth.

This will be the longest lasting legacy of the movement conservatism, the structural and cultural barriers put between participating in democracy and average people. And it's probably the best thing they ever did to push their agenda. A gift that will keep on giving.

When it comes to LGBT policy, we're talking about a group of voters that's far less likely to care about sexuality than any other age group, and it would be great to get them out to the polls. This cycle getting the youth out would help Obama out immensely.

But unless we see a real commitment and clarity from elected officials to democracy and voting accessibility instead of a concerted effort to disenfranchise, I don't see much of a chance of anyone doing much to help out the youth vote.


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i have been voting in every national election since 1976, when i voted on an absentee ballot as a florida resident while in college in georgia. my niece will be voting for first time, she'll vote absentee for the primary as she'll be away at UF and will apply for an absentee ballot for the november elections.
here in florida you simply go to the supervisor of elections, proper id, boom it is done.
taking responsiblity is all it takes. if my fellow citizens back in 2000 had both to do that, like reading your ballot, thouroughly, in florida you have three chances to view your ballot before you are handed one, we wouldn't have had bush.
i am opposed to same day registration. in florida we have a great snowbird population, how do we prevent someone from voting absentee early then coming to your winter home and voting a second time?
a simple responsibility.

inkpeninmd | August 6, 2008 9:36 PM

Why should any state accept an out of state ID for purposes of voter registration? You vote where you are a resident. If you're away from home during election season, file absentee.

By conflating inconvenience with voter suppression, you do the truly disenfranchised a disservice by trivializing their plight.

I dunno, titus, I just can't get worked up about possible voter fraud. In Indiana, the new voter ID law has kept thousands at home in order to prevent zero cases of voter fraud. No voter fraud had occurred, yet they passed the most stringent voter ID law in the country (at the time). Why disenfranchise thousands to prevent a non-existent crime? Well, because those thousands would have probably gone and voted Dem.

Ink~ There are lots of people who are residents of a state without an ID from that state. It's not like you show up and you're just handed a new ID. I lived in Washington state for 3 years but never got a WA driver's license since my IN driver's license hadn't expired and I didn't have a car.

(Or should have voted absentee in a state that I hadn't seen in years? Is that democracy?)

And I really see why that matters since most states already require proof of residency to register there (like a utilities bill). Except that the poor, the elderly, the youth and minorities are less likely to have drivers licenses and go through the steps to get a state ID to vote, so I guess....

We should be making voting as accessible as possible. Any impediment should be put in place only if it serves an actual purpose, not some vague idea of "Well, if you really wanted to be a resident of this state, you'd jump through all these hoops!"

Nerissa Belcher | August 7, 2008 4:02 AM

I'm in favor of keeping voting difficult. If LGBT activists made even a half hearted effort to get out the vote we'd win every election since most people don't vote due to voting difficulties. The math below makes my point.

Assume 75% of the population ("the bigots') are against LGBT rights and 25% of the population ("the decents") are for such rights. If one fifth (20%) of the bigots voted and two thirds (approx. 66.7%) of the decents voted we'd get:

Against LGBT: 75 * 0.20 = 15.0
For LGBT: 25 * 0.667 = 16.7

52.7% of voters would be in favor of LGBT rights. Slam dunk for the decents vs. the bigots!

In conclusion the LGBT population needs to encourage voting difficulties. For example by not allowing mail in ballots. We then need to work harder to get out the LGBT vote.

inkpeninmd | August 7, 2008 5:02 AM

Alex - you made my argument for me. *You* didn't get the proper credentials like you were supposed to. If you intended to be a resident in WA you had a legal obligation to get a new license or ID card. It is generally required after 30 days in most states.

In this day and age it is difficult if not impossible to conduct the affairs of daily living without a government issued picture ID and a birth certificate. You need them to rent an apartment, accept employment, register for medical assistance, cash a check at a bank or check cashing store, and so forth. These are things you need to have anyway. Sometimes getting them is a drag, but people living in horrendous circumstances do it every day. In any major city there are all kinds of people that help folks get these credentials. I have mailed letters to folks on University stationery dozens of times to help them establish their address without a utility bill. I don't think I'm sticking my neck out too far to suggest that they exist in rural areas too. Don't know where to go? My first stop would be any church with a soup kitchen, RN run health program, or a social worker on staff.

I agree with you, voting should be as accessible as possible. When people are not busy playing dirty tricks with the process our polls are pretty darn accessible. In Baltimore where I live we have political parties, candidates, civic organizations, and church busses taking folks to go vote. A ride is rarely more than a phone call away. So I'm with Titus, it is largely a matter of personal responsibility and taking some initiative.

So no, I don't guess I get too many grey hairs over people who'd rather not get an ID card or drop a voter registration application in a mailbox (btw applications processed by mail don't need ID cards and the like).

I do on the other hand get worked up over the *real* dirty tricks that get used to selectively keep people home on election day. Posters misidentifying election day, warnings that people with outstanding warrants, unpaid parking tickets, or over due bills will be arrested, and the ever infamous purging of voter rolls in Florida, former felony inmates who are disenfranchised, etc. Not having enough voting machines in poorer wards and so on. We won't even begin to talk about voting machines without paper trails.

Dare I ask if you've requested an absentee ballot?

Well at least we're getting angry at some of the dirty tricks....

But I don't get how I made your argument for you. That's ridiculous - I didn't need a WA state ID to rent, have a bank account, pay for utilities, etc. There was no 30 requirement to get a WA state ID. I did everything w/ my IN driver's license when ID was needed. And I registered to vote with a copy of my lease.

Which is just my point - under your argument I should have voted by absentee in a state I hadn't (at the time) lived in for years. I had no idea what the issues were there, I didn't have an investment in that state's future, and I didn't even know who the governor was at the time. I should have been voting in WA.

Nerissa, I think your math might be off...

Can't believe that school is being blamed on preventing youthful voters from actually voting. Early Voting allows voters to cast their vote up to three weeks before the actual election date, which any student could do if desired. School hours is a non-issue also, as students can always find to vote or do anything else during the week. If they don't vote, it is only because of misplaced priorities.

One other issue, in my opinion, is that they just don't teach civics anymore in high school. Instead they focus on the stuff that will be the subject of a standardized test - math and English and science. A lot of these kids have no idea how government works other than what they learn from John Stewart.

Titus, Ink, and Bob, how long has it been since you were a part of the "youth vote"? When I lived in California, I had an Arizona driver's license because I took public transit and my AZ driver's license wasn't expired. My landlord accepted it when I moved in, by bank accepted it every time I cashed a check, and my employers accepted it as proof of eligibility for employment. Why should I go sit in line at the DMV if I don't have to?

I've done voter registration/education drives at ASU and it's really frustrating to hear people tell you the day after the election that they waited in line all day to vote and then got turned away when they finally got the the front of the line because they were at the wrong polling place. Ya'll talk about responsibility. These college students took responsibility and they were still disenfranchised. I don't think this is a trivial matter at all. Drop the disrespectful attitude towards young people and give us some credit. Sure, we like eating junk food and playing video games. But were not as apathetic as all you old farts make us out to be.