Why Are Young People Not Voting? By Elizabeth Mehler

The biggest factors attributed to the low voter turnout among voters aged 18-29 are: lack of habit formation, obstacles to voting and/or registering, and the general discouragement around politics. 

Younger voters have simply had less opportunity to vote, and therefore less time to build the habit. Also people are influenced by external factors such as what they see their peers doing. Older people are more likely to observe friends, family members, and peers voting throughout many elections while young people are less likely to have that influence encouraging them to vote. 

Younger people are more likely to have jobs and financial situations that make it harder to take time off work to vote. It can also be more difficult for young people living in new and/or temporary places to learn the process of voting, registering, finding their polling place, and educating themselves on the local and national candidates. Younger people are less likely to have printers or other necessities to vote, or they may not know where to look for information on the electoral system

Young voters are historically not the most important demographic, due to their lower turnout, and therefore candidates’ campaigns are less focused on them and their concerns. Many young people feel their leaders don’t care about their input and feel generally discouraged around politics. This creates a feedback loop and  reinforces the idea that young people’s votes are unimportant and their input is not valued. 

Voter Turnout in Montgomery County

In the 2020 presidential election 537,935 people voted in Montgomery County. According to the Maryland State Board of Education, as of October 17, 2020 there were 673,198 registered voters. The general election turnout for Montgomery County voters was 79% for the 2020 elections. More than 127,700 voted during the early-voting period and the county received about 331,000 mail-in ballots.

How to Increase Youth Voter Turnout?

Educate Teenagers and Young Adults: Voting is a civic practice that needs to be learned. New voters should be actively taught how to register to vote, how to find a polling place, and  how to fill out and cast a ballot. One of the most beneficial ways to improve youth voter turnout is educating young people on the logistics of voting. 

Educating young people on voting needs to start within schools. Schools should take the time to teach students the process of voting, how to fill out a ballot, how to find where to vote and getting students registered (or pre registered) to vote, which can have a tremendous impact on youth voter turnout within their community. Research from a CIRCLE youth survey found that “youth who reported having been either encouraged to vote or taught how to register to vote in high school are more likely to vote and participate in other civic activities and are more knowledgeable about voting processes.” The survey also found that “students who had not received encouragement to vote from teachers in high school were more than twice as likely to agree with the statement ‘Voting is a waste of time’ as those who had been encouraged: 26% vs. 12%.” Increasing youth voter turnout must start within schools, teaching kids the importance of voting at formative ages. It is very worthwhile to work with schools to improve the information taught about voting and ensure kids are leaving school knowledgeable about the voting process.   

Automatic Voter Registration: Automatic voter registration (AVR) is the idea that when citizens reach the voting age, they are added to the voter rolls without having to register themselves. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) passed by congress in 1993 created a new way to vote. The NVRA required most states to provide citizens the opportunity to register to vote when applying or renewing a driver’s license at the DMV, and has been implemented in Maryland. 

Since Oregon became the first state in the nation to imple­ment AVR in 2016, the state has seen voter regis­tra­tion rates quadruple at DMV offices. Although the NVRA has a substantial impact on voter registration throughout the country, it still doesn’t reach everyone. Another example: Sweden has a virtually automatic enrollment system–voter registration is automatic and proof of registration is sent to the homes of every eligible Swedish citizen for elections. Data from the Pew Research Center places Sweden as having the second highest voter turnout in the world with a voter turnout of 82.61%. 

Registering to vote is often the biggest obstacle of the voting process in America. Automatic voter registration is proven to have an immense effect on voter turnout and is worth advocating for as youth voter turnout especially would increase. 

Please reach out to us at mocoyoungdems@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to get involved in boosting voter turnout.