Why College Students Don’t Vote – Some Anecdotes

College students, and young people in general, are famous for their low voting turn-out. In the 2010 midterms, an estimated 20.9% of 18 to 19-year-olds voted – far below the estimated 51% who voted in the 2008 presidential election. 18-to-29-year-olds composed 18% of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election; in the 2010 mid-term elections, they composed a mere 11% of the electorate.

As a college student myself, I’ve had a number of conversations with individuals who did not vote this November.

One person had a mid-term on election day. This individual wasn’t very interested in politics, and so he put his mid-term as more important than his vote. Save for Proposition 19, he did not care very much about anything that was up on the ballot.

Another person forgot to register in time. This individual was also far more interested in baseball than politics, which he knew very little about.

Forgetting to register in time was the reason why another college student didn’t vote. This person was quite politically interested – he believes in the philosophy of communism – and liked to talk about international events. But he didn’t know about the actual routine of registering and applying for an absentee ballot.

This was the same with another college student that I talked with during the summer. I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he responded by saying, “Oh yeah, I forgot that we can actually vote now. How can I vote outside the state?” I then told him how to apply for an absentee ballot.

Finally, there was a college student who didn’t vote due to a mistake in his voter registration form. This mistake apparently caused the state to think he was 10-years-old.  The student attempted to correct the error, but wasn’t able to do so. In talking about this, he called himself “disenfranchised.”

Now, none of these individuals can be accused of being stupid or lazy. They are in fact the opposite – extremely bright, extremely ambitious, and extremely motivated. They constitute the future leaders of the United States.

And they all forgot to vote.

In general, it seems that lack of interest and lack of knowledge were responsible for this. Many young people have never voted before in their lives, and they are unfamiliar with what you actually need to do to vote. Unlike adults, they haven’t been doing the procedure for years. The media always urges people to vote, but it never tells you how to vote: you have to register in your state (here is the form for California), and if you go to college in a different state you need to apply for an absentee ballot for your state (here is the form for California). This is not hard to do; it is just that most young people don’t know that they have to do it or forget to do so in time.

Lack of interest also plays a role. A college student uninterested in politics, who doesn’t know how register to vote or who forgets to register, isn’t going to vote. This is probably quite common.

There are policy changes that can increase turn-out. Election-day voter registration can help young voters who forgot to register in time. Voter turn-out is much higher in states with this. Perhaps states can add a requirement to high school government classes guiding students through the registration and absentee ballot process.

But youth turn-out will probably always lag overall turn-out, as long as young people are more busy than old people.

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