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Voter Registration 2.0

By Matt Impink on September 27, 2013 in Civic Blog
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Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day and got me thinking about the state of our elections in our country. While 2013 isn’t the biggest year for elections (except if you are in New York, New Jersey or Virginia), it’s still crucially important to think about how we can increase the percentage of registered voters in our communities. By taking the political implications out of voter registration, this year might be the best time to talk about the basics.

There seems to be a really basic deficiency between even giving young citizens a chance to exercise their democratic rights. For the November 2012 elections, only 53.6% of the 18-24 year olds were even registered to vote. Yet over three quarters of those that were registered did in fact vote. The data suggest that for inexperienced voters the process of knowing how to register may be the biggest reason why 18-34 year old are over 30% of the population, but only 23% of the electorate. In a very evenly divided political system, this is greatly significant.

November 2012 Election

Total US Citizen Population

Reported registered

Reported voted

Percent of the

(In thousands)

Number

Percent

Number

Percent of Total Citizens

Percent of Registered

Voting Elect-orate

Citizen Popula-tion

.Total 18 years +

215,081

153,157

71.2

132,948

61.8

86.8

100

100

..18 to 24 years

27,535

14,766

53.6

11,353

41.2

76.9

8.5

12.7

..25 to 34 years

35,473

23,435

66.1

18,977

53.5

81.0

14.3

17.4

..35 to 44 years

34,265

24,461

71.4

20,965

61.2

85.7

15.7

16.8

..45 to 54 years

40,016

29,445

73.6

26,120

65.3

88.7

19.6

18.5

..55 to 64 years

36,623

28,350

77.4

25,893

70.7

91.3

19.5

16.4

..65 to 74 years

23,375

18,620

79.7

17,182

73.5

92.3

12.9

10.3

..75 years +

17,794

14,079

79.1

12,459

70.0

88.5

9.3

7.8

Source: U.S. Census   Bureau, Current Population Survey, November 2012.

 

There is little validity in constant blame on a supposedly disengaged generation when the tools of engagement are routinely obscured from young voters. I thought that there must be an obvious policy solution to increasing the number of young citizens who are registered. In fact there has been since 1998 when the Federal Higher Education Act was amended to require all universities to “make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form… and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.” Unfortunately, this policy of distributing paper forms for… well anything, is incredibly out of date. When was the last time that any University registered students for classes using paper forms?18117643_l

During this “off year” let us consider a new way to register voters and especially younger voters. Instead of asking teenagers to go back in time to fill out paper registration forms, Columbia and several other Universities have started partnering with TurboVote to fulfill a true “good faith effort” to register their students to vote. TurboVote is often called the Netflix of voter registration, putting the whole process online with quick easy to use tools that customize for your particular state’s election laws. They will even mail you an absentee ballot and remind you of elections with text and email alerts.

This begs the question of course, why aren’t we all voting this way? If you can tell me that last time you went to Blockbuster to rent a movie, then maybe you can tell me why we haven’t updated our voter registration processes. Happy Belated Voter Registration Day!

Matt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis and currates the Civic Blog. He is forced into service to share his opinions when more important authors fail to send him blog posts to publish. He can be reached at mrimpink@iupui.edu and tweets @mrimpink.

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