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.