More than 15 million young Americans will be eligible to cast their vote for the first time in November’s election, but reaching and registering young voters is more difficult as college campuses are closed and schools move to online learning to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Registering young voters increases the likelihood of lifelong voting and promotes a wider spread of civic engagement. The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University has researched young voter mobilization and has some tips on how to engage a generation of young voters even from isolation.
The first strategy is to look beyond college campuses. These are often hubs of young voter registration, but at any given time, less than half of voters from ages 18 to 22 are enrolled in college. Shifting registration strategies to be more inclusive of non-college voters is a critical first step.
With students at home, discussing voting in online curriculums is critical for encouraging civic engagement. More than 20 states allow voters to register as long as they will be 18 on or before election day, so bringing up voting in high school classrooms is as effective as reaching out to college students. Using virtual classes to educate students about voting laws and how to register is a solution for reaching more potential young voters.
In the age of COVID-19, emphasizing online voter registration is also critical as in-person registration opportunities are few. Online registration puts voters on the radar of political candidates and outreach from specific candidates makes individuals more likely to vote. The ease of online registration also encourages more individuals to do so. Currently, 38 states and Washington, D.C. have online registration, but it is not widely used by low-income communities. Investing in efficient online registration platforms and making them widely available to all is an effective way to capture more young voters, especially in the digital age and during the coronavirus pandemic.
Digital presence is important for more than just registering voters, it is also a valuable source for information for a comprehensive candidate and policy details. Polls have shown that young voters get information from a variety of sources including parents, peers, and social media. Given that these individuals are now more isolated from their peers and other external information sources, accurate online resources are more critical than ever. Local media is also important as more Americans are likely watching the news as they spend more time at home and tune into COVID-19 updates.
Supporting young leaders is one of the best ways to engage with young voters. They are in tune with the causes important to the younger generation and young leaders are more effective in mobilizing their peers to become politically active than older influences.
Lastly, it’s important to pay attention to the issues younger voters care about. Younger voters are more likely to participate in elections where they see the chance to support candidates and measures in line with their values. This goes beyond supporting young leaders. It also means engaging young voters on critical topics such as employment, social justice, and environmental issues.
More widespread political participation leads to elected officials and policies which more accurately reflect the desires of the people. Young voters can feel like their voice cannot make a difference or is not important, but using these strategies to mobilize a new generation of voters can increase civic engagement and demonstrate to young voters that their political voices are valuable and deserve to be heard even from within their homes.