Civics For Change: The Youth Voting Rights Act
Young people want to be involved in making decisions for themselves and their communities. The proof is in the pudding: In the 2022 Midterms, young people had the second highest turnout in a Midterm Election in the past three decades. Not only do they want to be involved, but enshrined in the Twenty-Sixth Amendment is their constitutional right to participate in the democratic process.
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified in 1971 with overwhelmingly bipartisan support and both lowered the voting age to 18 and outlaws age discrimination in voting. The required 38 states ratified the bill in only four months, faster than any amendment in our history. However, many young people and students at colleges and universities nationwide still face significant obstacles to the ballot box, leaving the promises of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment unfulfilled.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Nikema Williams introduced The Youth Voting Rights Act (YVRA) in July of 2022 to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and expand youth voting access nationwide. If passed, the bill would ease many of the common barriers students face in voting, including high rates of provisional ballot rejections, lack of accessible polling places, restrictive residency and voter ID requirements, and more.
Some of the most significant barriers young people face in voting are addressed in the YVRA, which:
“Thanks to the leadership of Senator Warren and Congresswoman Williams, the Youth Voting Rights Act offers a comprehensive remedy to fulfilling the promise of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and protecting a constitutionally protected class of voters,” says Yael Bromberg, Esq., AGF’s Special Counsel & Strategic Advisor to the President/CEO and a constitutional rights attorney and Principal of Bromberg Law LLC, who was one of the architects of the YVRA and whose legal scholarship on the Twenty-Sixth Amendment has been heralded as a groundbreaking study of this unexamined and under-appreciated area of constitutional rights.
If passed and signed into law, one campus the YRVA would greatly benefit is Texas Woman’s University, to provide just one example. In Texas, student IDs are not accepted as valid voter ID, significantly reducing accessibility to the polls for students and young people throughout the state of Texas. Voters who lack the accepted forms of voter ID would be unable to vote in the state of Texas. However, with the passage of the YVRA, students would be able to vote using their university-issued ID cards.
“Without the added barrier of obtaining a valid voter ID, students are more likely to vote. Every year, Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Campus Teams take on projects to make student ID cards meet state requirements for valid voter identification,” says Kaylee Valencia, Program Manager: Operations Strategist at The Andrew Goodman Foundation, who advises Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Texas Woman’s University. In addition to valid voter ID requirements, many students face challenges in getting themselves to off-campus polling places. Take Bard College, for example.
Before student organizers at Bard College successfully won the decades-long battle of obtaining an on-campus polling place, the existing polling place was in a church “situated on a windy country road two miles from campus in Barrytown, New York, an area with neither sidewalks nor public transportation.” This barrier greatly impacted the efficacy of student organizers in getting out the vote. The addition of the on-campus polling place finally made voting accessible for thousands of students at Bard College only days ahead of the 2022 Midterm Elections.
We look forward to reviewing 2022 National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) reports, such as from campuses across New York State, who are now mandated to situate on campus polling sites, to compare against previous years and evaluate how increased accessibility to the polls may have increased youth voter turnout. The YVRA’s guarantee of a polling place at every higher education institution is a major milestone on the path of helping young voters harness their power as a force in our democracy.
To help ensure the bill passes both chambers of Congress, contact your representatives and urge them to support the Youth Voting Rights Act! The YVRA would remove some of the most significant barriers young people face in voting, and would finally fulfill the promise of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida.