Upon hearing numerous stories about needless bureaucratic barriers preventing young people from voting, Rock the Vote closely monitored states’ voting systems and laws, determining which states facilitate the process for young people, and which states throw up numerous hurdles that both discourage and prevent young people from showing up at the polls. Using research about policies that encourage young voter turnout and information about individual states’ voting laws, we developed a Voting System Scorecard that ranks the best and worst states in terms of how equipped they are to serve the next generation’s electorate.
The results were disheartening. The average national score was just 41 percent, and only 15 states scored above 50 percent, demonstrating that the current laws and policies are not meeting the needs of the youngest generation of voters. No individual state scored over 54 percent in the voter registration category, reinforcing that complicated and outdated registration policies are the most significant barrier to voter turnout. (To see the entire report and a state-by-state analysis, go here.)
Unfortunately, progress is being made to further restrict voter registration rather than reverse the archaic policies that are already obstructing young voter turnout. Dozens of states, including those who scored the highest, are introducing restrictive laws such as narrowing photo identification requirements, eliminating same day registration and threatening third-party voter registration groups and their volunteers with steep fines. The impact these policies will have on our democracy is significant. With an already failing grade, we cannot afford to further complicate the process that allows young people to participate in this country.
Candidates such as President Obama, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are currently kicking off their 2012 campaigns and pledging to target young people. However, the system in place is not only failing these young Americans but is also actively rolling back progress in many states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina. The strength of this democracy stems from the ability of all citizens to actively participate, but the complicated and opaque election laws are threatening the future of this democracy.
The Millennial generation has proven themselves to be engaged, interested, optimistic and innovative. They are passionate about this country and its future and have a strong desire to help devise solutions to the many problems we face today. This democracy is failing them and the restrictive voter registration laws are promising to discourage them from voicing their opinions on Election Day. If we can ask them to face record unemployment rates and astoundingly high levels of national debt as they graduate college and start their adult lives, then we should give them the chance to participate and help solve these problems.
Rock the Vote is calling on all Americans to demand a truly 21st century voting system, one that encourages participation from all demographics. While it may be convenient for politicians to remain in power by disenfranchising voters with opposing opinions, our democracy guarantees all of us the right to vote.
Heather Smith is the president of Rock the Vote.