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Will The Class Of 2012 Turn Out And Vote?

Nearly 5 million young Americans will graduate from high school or college this spring and take the exciting next step of their life. The new worlds they enter, however, will involve either increasingly expensive tuition and (more) student debt, or few jobs with decent pay or benefits. And things probably aren’t going to change much soon when the interests and concerns of these young people are not represented in the electorate.  In the last general election of 2010, less than a quarter of 18-29 year olds voted. And even when youth voter turnout was at a historical high in 2008 at 51 percent, it was still well behind their elders by 11 to 19 percentage points.

And the youth do indeed have markedly distinct world views and policy preferences that need to be represented (especially compared to those whose voices seem to count the most these days – the “1 percent”). In one poll, young Americans stressed job creation and affordable college education when asked what Congress’ top priorities should be. The least popular priority was cutting entitlements to reduce the federal debt. In response to the question about how to make the economy stronger, young people supported education-related policies, infrastructure investment and a public jobs program.

From the State of Young America poll

On the other hand, “the 1 percent” emphasize dealing with deficits by cutting programs rather than raising taxes, according to a survey conducted by three political scientists. To address unemployment, “respondents tended to think in terms of unleashing the job-creating force of private enterprise, not about using government to stimulate the economy, to provide jobs, or to aid the unemployed.” They also tend to favor market-oriented solutions to education and not large new investments of public money to improve the quality of education.

Hence, we must ensure that our youth have an equal voice and can hold politicians accountable to the decisions that impact their lives – beginning with the protection of the freedom to vote. The current residency-based, restrictive requirements of voter registration coupled with a voter registration system designed for the 19th century prevent our young citizens from casting a ballot that counts. Not to mention the recent, deliberate and aggressive efforts to further curtail the youth vote. You see, once registered, young voters turn out at rates as high as 77-87% (depending on age and education).

Recently, two New York lawmakers took a step forward and introduced a bill that included a number of provisions that would protect and promote our youth’s freedom to vote, including:

  • Pre-registration allows 16 and 17 year olds to register at school or the DMV when they first get their driver’s license. Once registered, voters are much more likely to remain registered. 
  • Voter registration will occur at admission and annually at SUNY and CUNY campuses. When institutions share the value and duty of civic engagement and offer citizens the opportunity to register to vote, they are highly successful and can bring hundreds of thousands of Americans into the political process.

The most effective reform for adequately representing our young voices, however, would be Same Day Registration. Americans move a lot during their lifetime, especially those under 30, and Same Day Registration would allow voters to update their address or add their name to the rolls on Election Day and/or during the Early Voting period.