Four Ways to Engage Young Voters This Graduation Season

Democracy Maps
5 min readMay 29, 2024

Nearly all high school graduates — approximately 4 million young people — are old enough to register to vote by spring 2024, according to the CIVICS Center; yet, just 30% of 18-year-olds are currently registered to vote across the United States.

The end of the academic year signals an ideal time to cultivate civic engagement among young people. Through in-school voter registration drives and other voter education initiatives, students can learn more about our election system and get involved in the democratic process before Election Day.

In our recent report, MAP highlighted several policy solutions to improve young voter engagement, including voter pre-registration, Election Day voter registration, and more. Below, we detail four of these concrete steps and how they can effectively improve access to the ballot for young people.

Voter pre-registration

This policy allows eligible people as young as 16 to sign up to be automatically registered to vote once they turn 18. Registering to vote at an earlier age offers young voters a chance to become engaged in the election system and learn about voting processes before they become eligible.

To date, twenty states and D.C. allow pre-registration at age 16, as long as the person will be 18 when they cast their vote. An additional four states allow pre-registration starting at age 17.

Democracy Map: Voter Pre-Registration (via MAP)

Research shows that pre-registration results in higher voter turnout among young voters and is growing in popularity. From 2014 to 2020, the number of pre-registered young people more than doubled to nearly 1 million young voters.

Pre-registration can also help to alleviate barriers for young voters related to frequent moves and attending college. During these significant life changes, young people may be less likely to find time and opportunity to register.

Election Day voter registration

In addition to measures like pre-registration, it is also important for states to provide a fail-safe if young voters are unable to register in advance. This can be accomplished through Election Day voter registration.

The proven benefits of Election Day voter registration include increased access to voting and increased voter turnout in the general population — especially among young voters.

However, only 22 states and D.C. currently allow voters to register and cast their ballot on Election Day. Another 22 states have registration deadlines ranging from 15 to 30* days prior to Election Day. The remaining six states have deadlines 1 to 15 days prior to Election Day.

* The federal National Voter Registration Act prohibits states from setting a registration deadline more than 30 days before an election.

Voter ID and allowing student IDs

Young people can face difficulties obtaining IDs, as outlined in our report, which creates challenges in terms of satisfying state ID requirements for casting a ballot. As shown below, the majority of states require some form of identification at the polls in order to vote.

Democracy Map: Voter ID Requirements for In-Person Voting (via MAP)

Eleven states have unnecessarily strict requirements where photo identification is required and if the voter does not have the required ID, they must undertake additional burdensome steps to have their vote counted. Additionally, at least nine states do not allow student IDs to be used as a form of photo identification, according to VoteRiders.

Research shows that such restrictive laws reduce turnout across the general population, and when state laws forbid the use of student IDs as an acceptable form of identification to cast a ballot, this makes it more difficult for young people to vote — and especially for young people of color.

MAP’s report recommends that states revise their general ID requirements to allow a range of identity documents to be used, including student IDs.

Early voting availability

Finding the time to cast a ballot can be challenging for young voters, who often work less predictable schedules and may be more likely to forego voting to earn an income. While almost all states offer some form of early in-person voting, the length of the early voting period varies widely.

Currently, 43 states and D.C. offer early voting periods that are more than seven days, and four states have early voting periods less than seven days. Only three states do not currently offer any form of early in-person voting, or require a legal excuse to vote early.

The 2022 election demonstrated the importance of early voting for young voters when more than half of all young voters cast their ballots before Election Day. With more robust periods of early voting, states can reduce barriers for young voters and provide more opportunities to access the ballot box.

Over eight million members of Gen Z have become eligible to vote since the 2022 election cycle. The size and diversity of young voters makes them perhaps the most important demographic in this year’s elections and beyond. Intentional efforts to engage young voters should start now, not just to guarantee participation in November’s election, but to ensure the future of our democracy.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps tracks more than 50 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.