Whose Rules: Why Voting Access Is a Millennial Issue

By Carley Przystac |

In a speech targeting millennials this week, Hillary Clinton sought to forge a partnership with young people and, above all, to get them to the polls in November. In the last few minutes of her half-hour speech, Clinton made a targeted pitch for voter registration, stating, “Go to iwillvote.com and register today. Register your friends. Register everyone you know. This is going to be close; we need everyone off the sidelines. Not voting is not an option.”

But for many young people, voting is not an option, and voter registration processes may prevent them from casting their ballots in November.

Millennials have become an increasingly important demographic in recent election cycles and will make up approximately the same percentage of eligible voters in 2016 as Baby Boomers. Yet despite their increasing prominence, voter registration legislation has made it more difficult for them to participate in elections.

Voter registration disproportionately prevents young minorities from voting. In 2012, lack of required identification prevented 17.3 percent of young black voters from voting, compared to 8.1 percent of Latino youth and only 4.7 percent of white youth. Millennials are more diverse than previous generations, with 44.2 percent identifying as part of a minority race or ethnic group, and so are uniquely impacted by this phenomenon.

Millennials are also a generation that moves frequently, necessitating re-registration in their new neighborhoods. Fifty-nine percent of people between the ages of 18 and 35 currently live outside of their hometown, 80 percent have moved at some point in their lives, and one-third have moved at least three times. Switching jobs frequently and early in one’s career is also more common for millennials than for previous generations. The average number of companies young professionals work for in the five years following college graduation increased by nearly 100 percent in the last 20 years.

Students and young people new to an area are now confronted with the difficulty of registering to vote in their new area or registering for an absentee ballot in their home state. For the 2016 presidential election, 15 states will have more restrictions in place before a person can register to vote or cast a ballot, when compared to 2012. Seven states do not accept student identification, and an additional nine states accept only some schools’ IDs, making it difficult for students to use their school as an address of residence. The difficulty of registration is compounded by deadlines that may be over a month before Election Day, depending on the state.

Voter registration issues have become a cornerstone of the Clinton campaign. Clinton has advocated for automatic registration of voters, repairs to the Voting Rights Act, and national standards for early voting. In the past several weeks, the campaign has launched a new online voter registration portal (iwillvote.com) and devoted resources to registration on college campuses. Clinton also spoke at length on the topic at an earlier speech at Texas Southern University in June 2015.

As a millennial, I see voting access as one of the major issues in the 2016 election, as well as an issue that uniquely affects young voters. The first time I went to vote in person after turning 18, I was turned away. I was pleased to see Clinton advocate for this issue, and moving forward, I hope all presidential candidates will continue to emphasize the importance of voter registration and engage and include young people in the democratic process.

Carley Przystac is a senior and founder of the Roosevelt @ U Mass Amherst chapter.