News Release

Youth “Apathy” and Access to the Political Process


Rosenberg is a voting rights fellow and Weiser is the deputy director at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The Brennan Center has published a student voting rights guide that identifies laws and regulations relevant for student voters in all states.

Rosenberg said today: “We’ve heard reports from across the nation about students being given misinformation or even intimidating information about their right to vote and potential negative repercussions if they go ahead and exercise that right. This is a year in which students and young people in general are engaged in record numbers in the political process. This is a good thing for democracy. We want to make sure that the system does not deter them from exercising this right. A good voting experience will make these young people lifelong participants in the democratic process.”

Weiser added: “Studies show that a bad experience the first time a person votes will make it less likely that they will participate in future elections. Allowing young people and students to exercise their right to vote without creating illegal or inconvenient obstacles in their path is a matter of good public policy. Students are a subset of a category of people who move for a few years. Most people who move for a few years do not know what they will do in the future or whether they will always stay in that area. Just because you do not have definite plans to stay does not mean you are not a resident — as has been implied by some voter registration boards in some states. This is not correct; this is one of the biggest pieces of misinformation out there.”

King is a lecturer in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He said today: “Every college and every university in the United States has a legal and civic obligation to make voter registration materials widely available to students. If they fail to do this, they are in clear violation of federal law and should be sanctioned heavily. … Students have a right to vote wherever they are registered and there is no question that they are residents in states where they go to school. A dormitory is a residence.”

Background: In a previous study titled Survey of College and University Voter Registration and Mobilization Efforts, King wrote: “Universities entrusted with the education of this country’s youth may have a civic obligation to prepare them for our participatory republic. However, these institutions have more than a patriotic duty to provide their students with the means to register to vote; it is federal law. The Higher Education Act of 1998 requires that each college and university receiving federal funds commit to a ‘good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form’ to each student and to ‘make such forms widely available to students at the institution.'”
More Information

Connery is the author of the book Youth to Power: How Today’s Young Voters Are Building Tomorrow’s Progressive Majority. He said today: “Lower youth turnout is not about apathy, but about access. Young voters, particularly students, face more barriers to voting than almost any demographic outside of convicted felons. For a society that prizes political engagement and democracy, we make it exceedingly difficult for our youngest members to have their voices heard.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167