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2014 Could be Watershed Year for Youth Voting Participation

This blog post was co-written with Da’Quan Love, NAACP National Board of Directors

As the 2014 midterm election season gets underway, much attention will be paid to the twists and turns that will undoubtedly arise in the high-profile congressional and gubernatorial elections happening across the country. While campaign tactics will dominate headlines, there is a much more important story at work. As we speak, advocates, educators and students nationwide are on a mission to increase youth voter registration and participation. The Department of Education has also weighed in, pledging to “prepare all students for citizenship as informed, engaged and responsible members of our society,” and reminding colleges of their federal obligation to provide students with opportunities to register to vote.

There is much work to do to realize these goals. In 2010, the last comparable election year, only an estimated 24 percent of young people (ages 18-29) voted, according to Census data analyzed by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).  

The League of Women Voters and NAACP believe we can do better—we must do better—when it comes to youth voting participation, especially among the many young people who are least likely to vote, including minority and low income youth and those who do not have a traditional college education. Important new collaborations are making success more possible than ever before.

To that end, the League is excited to once again partner with The Democracy Commitment, a project of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities geared toward providing resources and support to community colleges seeking to engage students in voting and civic life. League volunteer teams will also be out in full force in their communities, hosting registration drives on college campuses and working with educators and students to institutionalize voter registration programs on campus to ensure students have all the information they need to participate in 2014. Activities are being planned now on campuses in Manatee County, Florida, Long Island, NY, various communities in Michigan, and elsewhere. In September, hundreds of League affiliates will join thousands of other volunteers—including many students and NAACP leaders—in organizing National Voter Registration Day events on campuses, in classrooms, transit stops and grocery stores across the country. The League can’t wait to see stories of young people taking charge of their democracy—like these incredible students from the University of Texas at San Antonio did in 2013.

The NAACP is no stranger to nonpartisan voter registration efforts. In 2012, the civil rights group registered 432,000 Americans - more than double than it did in the historic 2008 election. What was unique about their voter registration efforts was a deliberate emphasis on voter registration on college campuses nationwide. Coupling existing chapters on college campuses with modern GOTV technology that the Association debuted in 2012, the NAACP's Youth & College Division is poised to effectively boost voter registration and turnout among college students during the 2014 midterm elections. Further, the NAACP's college chapters will continue helping students attending college out-of-state to navigate through the voter registration processes in states where new voter identification requirements have been implemented. All across the nation, youth and college students are leading their peers in efforts to increase civic engagement through voter registration, education, and turnout ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.

Analysis by CIRCLE shows that it is the issues, not a candidate’s individual likeability, that matters most to young voters. Now is the time for all of us, whether we work with young people or attend school ourselves, to make sure young voters have the opportunities to discuss the issues that matter most to them and help make sure they have the opportunity to cast a ballot in November.