The results from yesterday’s election are still coming in and a lot of things are being tabulated, but it is hard to claim that the Republican “red wave” swept in and won the day.

Something that quite possibly had an impact on the results heavily is the youth vote. For years now it has become almost a given that youth turnout will be low, and even with predictions that youth turnout could create a blue wave, it seems like the youth vote might have at least forestalled a red one.

The state of youth voting

In 2018 and 2020, given the divisiveness of the elections, there was actually a sharp increase in youth turnout (and increased election turnout in general, Donald Trump received the second most votes for any US presidential candidate in history after Joe Biden).

So with an uptick in 2020, it is an open question how to ensure that it will last. There were a lot of efforts to try to ensure that this level of turnout continues, and it seems like it has had an impact but maintaining that kind of momentum could be hard if young voters come to the conclusion that their efforts and participation don’t change anything. And the Republican party has done a good job blocking good faith efforts to improve young people’s lives.

But there are some efforts to change that. Some people see the issues around low youth turnout as being systemic and believe that the solution is legislation protecting the rights and creating pathways for young people to vote. In the past summer of this year, there was a lot of energy around a “Youth Voting Rights Act” and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill into congress (which hasn’t gone very far yet).

The bill has some pieces which would likely not make a huge impact, like letting people pre-register before turning 18, and some pieces which could make a difference, like expanding voting registration centers and polling places at Higher Ed institutions.

While not every young person attends a university, they are a location that has a high density of 18-24 year olds. Making it easy to register at places where these students are located would be the next best thing to automatic voter registration. 

The elephant in the room (or the elephant blocking any progress on this issue) is that the youth vote Democrat by such a wide margin that the Republican party has no interest in working on this issue for forwarding this bill. Given the outcome of the election and the general attempts at voter suppression, it is likely years away from making any progress at the federal level.

In the meantime, we might see some already left leaning states start to implement some of these tactics and it will be interesting to see the data on what kind of impact that has, both on elections and on youth participation in the whole of the political process.

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