CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

2014 Midterms: How Youth Register to Vote

July 7th, 2014
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This is the second in a series of three blog posts exploring aspects of youth voter registration in midterm elections. The analysis is based on this recently released CIRCLE Fact Sheet about young people’s electoral engagement in midterm years. The first post looked at the voter turnout rate among registered youth, and the reasons given by these young people for not casting a ballot in 2010. Today we discuss how young people register to vote and what this means for practitioners who are working to increase young people’s political engagement.

The gaps in voter registration between youth, aged 18-29, and older adults go beyond merely the registration rate, and include important differences in how and where they register to vote. That’s one of the highlights from our recent analysis of youth voter registration data which focuses especially on the 2010 midterm, the most comparable contest to this upcoming November’s election.

In 2010, almost a third of young people registered to vote at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which was also a top registration site for adults over the age of 30. When it comes to other registration methods, however, there are starker differences between both age groups. While young people (11%) are half as likely as older adults (22%) to register at a town hall or other local government office, they are more than twice as likely to do so at a school, hospital, or college campus. And, though the absolute percentages are relatively small, youth are also significantly more likely to register online. In fact, in 2010, hundreds of thousands did so.

These findings point to significant opportunities to increase youth political engagement. While it is no surprise that young people are more likely to register to vote in school, only about one in 10 of them are doing so. Both secondary and higher education institutions can play a much larger role in providing students with information and opportunities to register. In fact, many institutions are required to do so by the Higher Education Act.

Youth also favor voter registration methods that are convenient and accessible: during the 2012 cycle, in the states where online registration was available, 12.8% of young voters registered online. As more states implement online registration systems (13 have done so since 2010), the Internet will become an even more valuable tool for politically engaging young people. The availability of same-day registration (SDR) also affects youth more than older adults; in 2012, almost half of young voters in states with SDR registered at the polling place, and the rate of youth who did so at the DMV dropped from 31% to just 10.3%. As such, CIRCLE continues to find that youth in states with same-day registration have higher turnout rates than those states that do not.

It is vital for practitioners to follow this changing policy landscape closely, and to be aware of where and how young people register to vote, in order to increase and improve their youth engagement efforts. Additionally, it is also important for legislators to be cognizant of how youth and other citizens register to vote, so that these systems enable broad participation.

Find information about youth voter registration in your state by checking out our interactive youth voting map, where double-clicking on your state will access a state-specific fact sheet. An overview of youth voting can be found here.

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