It has often been stated how apathetic young people are toward the political process and how politically disengaged they can be; and while they do tend to vote at lower rates than older Americans, the primary question should not rest on “why don’t more young people and college students vote,” but rather, “are there barriers preventing them from voting?” The right to vote is a fundamental right that has served as a gateway toward inculcating change and is something that should be easy and accessible for all.
College students, like all individuals, are entitled to register to vote in the community they reside in without interference from legal and administrative barriers that make it nearly impossible to vote in their college communities.
Just as there are tactics being used to suppress the vote of minorities, the elderly, and the disabled, such as gerrymandering, lack of poll access, and stricter voter ID laws, there are targeted efforts occurring in states all across the country aimed at preventing young people, particularly college students, from accessing the ballot box. A recent case in Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida v. Lee, serves as a primary example of a failed attempt by Republican legislators and officials trying to trammel the voices of young voters.
According to an article published by Democracy Docket, after Florida voters faced unreasonably long lines during the 2012 general election, the state legislature expanded the availability of early voting in 2013 by passing the Early Vote Statute that gave local election supervisors discretion to increase the number of eligible early voting facilities.
But shortly after the passage, the then-Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee issued a directive stating that “any college-or university-related facilities” did not qualify as early voting sites, consequently prohibiting early voting on Florida’s college campuses. In 2018, six university students in Florida, along with two organizations- League of Women Voters of Florida and the Andrew Goodman Foundation- sued the Florida Secretary of State, alleging that the interpretation of the Early Voting Statute targeted young voters by obliterating convenient and easy-accessible early voting sites, essentially denying them an equal opportunity to vote early.
The district court ultimately agreed with the plaintiff’s rationale that the Secretary of State's interpretation of the Early Vote Statute violated the 26 amendment, along with the First and 14th amendments and held that the directive had an effect of creating a secondary class of voters seeking early voting sites in “dense, centralized locations where they work, study, and many cases live.”
This case is but one example of the extent to which legislators, particularly Republican legislators, will go to try and curb the youth vote. Emboldened by issues like racial inequality, climate change, and the Trump presidency, students emerged as a crucial voting block in the 2020 general election, wherein 62% of voters aged 18-29 voted for Biden compared to the 35% that voted for Trump. The question, “ why don’t more young people and college students vote,” should no longer be a point of disputation, but rather the “what” that is potentially preventing them from voting.
All across the country students are faced with draconian roadblocks that limit their access to the ballot box, from refusal to process registration forms to local ordinances establishing
impracticable residency standards. With state Republican lawmakers and Trump loyalists doing everything in their power to strategically hold onto power by restricting voter eligibility, voting options, and implementing other voter suppression tactics, the state of our democracy depends on the engagement of the youth. But a continuous increase in turnout among youth and college students can only happen if all legal and administrative barriers are removed. It is not about the “why” when it comes to the lack of turnout among youth voters, but the “what.” For a nation to truly adhere to the principles of a democracy, every young person and student who desires to vote-no matter who they choose to vote for- should have equal access to the electoral process.