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Warren Introduces Bill That Would Allow 16 & 17 Year Olds to Preregister to Vote

The bill comes as support for mainstream party politicians like Joe Biden is falling among young voters.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) speaks during a hearing on September 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Amid waning support for mainstream politicians among young voters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Georgia) have introduced a bill aimed at greatly expanding youth access to voting.

Young voters consistently have the lowest voter turnout among all age groups. Even in 2020, when young voters turned out in the highest numbers since the turn of the 21st century, only about 50 percent of people aged 18 to 29 voted, while 75 percent of people 65 and over voted. Among all people eligible to vote, turnout was 67 percent.

Warren and Williams want to change that. The Youth Voting Rights Act would enforce the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, by designating colleges and universities as voter registration agencies and requiring them to have polling places on campus. It would allow 16- and 17-year olds to preregister to vote, which is already allowed in many states, and mandate that all states must accept student IDs as valid voter identification.

The bill would also create a grant program dedicated to getting more young people involved in elections and direct the federal government to study youth voter registration and turnout.

“Voting is the beating heart of our democracy,” Warren said in a statement. “Young people are the future of America, and with voting rights under attack across the country, we must do everything we can to ensure they can exercise their right to vote.”

Voting rights advocates say that allowing people to use student IDs to vote could vastly improve young people’s access to voting. Meanwhile, the vast majority of colleges don’t have polling places on campus, placing a barrier to voting for many young students.

This problem is growing. Far right conservatives have been taking aim at polling places on college campuses; in Texas, lawmakers outlawed polling places that didn’t stay open for the entirety of the state’s early voting period, closing several polling places on campuses that logged thousands of votes from students.

Young people typically skew further left than their older counterparts and consistently vote for Democrats, making them a key group for the party. Republicans have been strategically trying to suppress the youth vote, viewing young voters as a threat to their power.

But just aiming to get young people to vote without promising transformational change may not be enough to increase voter turnout. Young voters are increasingly more progressive than previous generations and are beginning to reject offerings by mainstream Democrats, especially as obstruction from Democrats themselves jams up progress from within Congress and party leaders do little to address issues that young people feel strongly about, such as the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Approval of President Joe Biden, for instance, has been especially low among young voters.

Among Democratic voters in a survey from New York Times/Siena College released on Monday, only 64 percent said they’d vote for Biden in the primaries in 2024, while a whopping 94 percent of Democrats under 30 said that they would vote for another Democrat to replace Biden after his first term is over. This is despite the fact that nearly 60 percent of young voters voted for Biden above Donald Trump in 2020 and, the poll found, would still elect the president over Trump if the election were held today.

The same poll, taken between July 5 and July 7, found that only 1 percent of voters between 18 and 29 said they “strongly” approve of Biden’s job performance, and only 19 percent overall said they approve – the lowest rating of any age group. Among young voters who said that they’d vote for someone other than Biden, 20 percent said that it would be primarily because he’s not progressive enough.

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