Youth Voting: State and city approaches to early civic engagement

Source: Stephanie Aragon, Education Commission of the States, Education Trends, December 2015

This report reviews new efforts by state and city leaders to encourage youth voting within their boundaries.

For most students, opportunities for real world experiences and direct engagement with the political process are limited, if they exist at all. In response to inadequate civics knowledge and engagement, state policymakers are working to provide more robust civics programs in schools through revised civics standards, course and graduation requirements, and assessments. In addition, states and cities are creating opportunities for real world engagement through new youth voting efforts.

“Many state legislators are beginning to realize that robust civics programs must include real world engagement with the election and policymaking process,” said Stephanie Aragon, the report’s author. Early pioneers are adopting policies that support youth suffrage in local elections and connect them to the process while motivation is still high. These policies might lead to a better, more enriching civics experience that continues to impact students long after they receive their diploma.”

Some important takeaways from this report:
• In the past few years, a number of states and municipalities have considered or enacted policies permitting youth under the age of 18 to preregister to vote, or to vote in primary, municipal or school board elections.
• Efforts to encourage early activism might create engaged citizens and lifelong voters, draw young people into the voting process while motivation is still high and have a “trickle-up” and “trickle-down” effect on family members.
• Some evidence has shown that when given the opportunity to vote, 16- and 17-year olds have higher turnout rates than adults.