A national poll conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School found that 63 percent of youth voters surveyed said they would “definitely be voting,” suggesting turnout similar to 2008, when enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s candidacy led to higher levels of youth voting than in any election since 1984.
Energized by issues like climate change and the Trump presidency, college students emerged as a crucial voting bloc in the 2018 midterms, when their turnout rate of 40.3 percent, according to the Tufts Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, was more than double the rate four years earlier.
Faced with those surging numbers among a voting group that leans heavily Democratic, Republican lawmakers in numerous states, including several battlegrounds, have taken actions that they said were intended to prevent voter fraud — including enacting restrictive ID rules and byzantine voter registration requirements — that have also made it more difficult for college students to cast ballots.
Elected officials have also moved to diminish the electoral power of campuses through redistricting, as well as by limiting early voting sites, purging voter rolls or refusing to permit polling stations on campus. And the logistics of the pandemic could alter where young people cast their ballots, potentially affecting races where candidates, typically Democrats, count on support from students living in their districts — but many of those students are now at home.
“Every aspect of students’ ability to vote is under attack,” said Maxim Thorne, managing director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on protecting voting rights for young people. “You have to fight these battles on every front, whether you’re in a state as blue as New York or as red as Georgia.”
In New Hampshire, where six in 10 college students come from outside the state, a rate among the nation’s highest, a Republican-backed law took effect last fall requiring newly registered voters who drive to obtain an in-state driver’s license and auto registration, which can cost hundreds of dollars annually. The law passed after years of calls by state Republicans to clamp down on voting access for college students.