(Orlando, FL) The laws governing registration and voting are confusing, rapidly changing, sometimes deliberately restrictive, and different in every state. In our 2012 youth survey, we found that substantial majorities of 18-29-year-olds did not know or misunderstood the laws that would govern their own voting, just four months before Election Day. Although only a minority of young adults are college students, students face an extra layer of laws governing registration at their campus addresses and use of their college ID at the polls. Students should therefore make sure to use the Brennan Center’s new Student Voter Guide. By clicking on your state, you can immediately see accurate and current information about registration, residency, allowable ID, absentee voting, and early voting.
CIRCLE’s new interactive maps of states and congressional districts are getting a lot of attention. Our congressional district map lets you view any district by various measures of demographics, turnout, socioeconomic variables, the number of local colleges and universities, and two political factors (whether any state ballot measures might mobilize youth in 2014, and whether the district is competitive).
You can compare rates by district, look over time, and see all the districts ranked from highest to lowest. Using some of those tools, we have identified four districts–IA-3, AZ-1, AZ-9, and NY-23–as especially interesting to watch in 2014 if you care about the youth vote.
Previously, we had released a state map (pertinent to Senate races, among other purposes) that shows historical youth turnout rates and other data going back to the 1970s.
We are cited in a couple of recent news articles about whether potential marijuana-legalization ballot measures in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana and Nevada could encourage young people to vote in 2014 or 2016. (See Toluse Olorunnipa, “Florida Pot Vote Turnout Seen Helping Democrat Win Governor Race,” in Business Week; and Matt Sledge, “How Marijuana May Influence The 2016 Election,” in Huffington Post.)
It’s tempting to look at the data from previous marijuana initiatives in Washington State and Colorado, but the results are murky. First of all, whether youth turnout rose or fell in those states depends on whether you use the Exit Polls or the Census’ Current Population Survey to estimate it. The former method shows an increase in Colorado in 2012, but the Census doesn’t confirm that trend. In any case, many other factors were in play in those two states–other ballot initiatives and candidate races, demographic shifts, and so on. Even if the increase seen in Colorado was real, it is not clearly attributable to the pot initiative.
Leaving aside the technicalities, I think it’s important to say that marijuana legalization never polls as a high-priority issue for young voters. It’s always far down on their list, well below the economy, jobs, education, and health care. There may be some libertarian-leaning youth (and young people concerned about unfair incarceration*), for whom legalization is a core matter of principle. But they are few. There may also be some young people–as well as some older people–who would just like to be allowed to indulge. But voting is a demanding civic act that correlates with seriousness. If there is an actual stoner voting bloc, I would suspect they are low-propensity voters, quite hard to turn out on a November Tuesday. Other youth voting blocs, from environmentalists to pro-Lifers, will be easier to mobilize.
Again, I do not mean to dismiss the moral seriousness of legalization activists. Whether libertarians or critics of the carceral state (or both), they are raising a real issue, and they will vote if they have a chance. But they are not very numerous. I don’t think they are strongly concentrated among the young. And other issues will matter a lot more to the youth vote in 2014.
(*For full disclosure, I would personally vote to legalize pot and I am very concerned about over-incarceration. But less than 1 percent of state and federal inmates were incarcerated as a result of marijuana laws, so I wouldn’t put my own energy into marijuana legalization as a strategy for reducing incarceration.)