To strengthen our democracy, we need to remove obstacles that keep students from voting
© Greg Nash

Over the last few months, we’ve witnessed the incredible public engagement and political energy of young Americans, but despite this passion, young Americans vote at some of the lowest rates of any age group and those rates have declined for decades. In 1972, the first election after the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18, 55 percent of people aged 18-29 cast a ballot. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that percentage has fallen to 46 percent in 2016. Compared to the national voter participation rate of 55 percent, young people are disproportionally under-represented in our electoral process. In 2014, 42 percent of young Americans between 18 and 24 were not even registered to vote, which is their lowest registration rate in 40 years.

These low rates of voting and registering to vote among young Americans are rooted in the unique obstacles they face. Many of these students are first-time voters, are living in new states for school, and are unaware of their registration process or deadlines. According to the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 said they weren’t registered to vote in 2008 because they missed the deadline, and another 6 percent said they didn’t know how to register or where to go. American colleges and universities are incubators of civic engagement, and as such have an obligation to graduate informed, engaged citizens but they must be more effective in the manner in which they meet that obligation.

ADVERTISEMENT

At a societal level, youth voter participation ensures that our government is representative of all people it serves, promoting diversity and innovation in our institutions. On an individual level, voters are significantly more likely to give back to their communities and have strong social connections.

The question is: how do we make sure that every American not only has the right to vote, but the ability to exercise that right? For college students who have never voted or registered to vote, and who split their residences between different states, there are various burdens that prevent voter registration. Currently, Title IV of the Higher Education Act mandates that institutions of higher education make a “good-faith effort” to distribute nonpartisan voter registration forms to students in accordance with local voter registration laws. But this directive has been implemented inconsistently across the nation, with minimal guidance as to what constitutes a “good-faith effort.”

That’s why Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCNN editor: Booker's 'groping incident' 'different' from Kavanaugh allegation Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle MORE (D-N.J.) and I introduced the Help Students Vote Act (HSVA), which helps colleges and universities ensure that all students are as informed as possible about their right to vote. Under our bill, colleges are required to contact students via email twice a year, and no less than 30 days before voter registration deadlines for federal and state elections, with active links to voter registration information. Each institution will also designate a “Campus Vote Coordinator” who is empowered and required to answer student questions about voter registration.

In addition to holding bad actors accountable for engaging in willful pattern of violating this law, our bill also authorizes grants to exemplary institutions who go above and beyond their responsibilities to foster youth civic engagement on campus.  

So far, over 70 national advocacy groups have endorsed our legislation, including the National Education Association, SEIU and Young Invincibles. All of us agree that the more people who actively participate in our democracy, the stronger we are as a nation. With the help of our institutions of higher education across the country, we can make registering and voting the habit of a lifetime and strengthen our democracy for generations to come.

Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiTrump, Obamas and Clintons among leaders mourning Aretha Franklin A new law just built a bridge over America’s skills gap Dems seek probe into EPA head’s meetings with former clients MORE represents the 8th  District of Illinois. He is a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee.