24 Ways to Grow Voters Before 2024
CIRCLE recently released a new estimate that 23% of young people voted in the 2022 midterm elections. That was among the highest youth turnout rates in a midterm election in the past three decades, but the fact that only about 1 in 4 young people cast a ballot last November remains an indictment of how our communities and institutions are—and are not—preparing young people for democratic participation.
Our research frequently highlights ways to increase youth voting and address stubborn inequities in participation: from electoral laws that make it easier to register, to engaging youth based on the issues they care about. But achieving drastic improvements and eliminating, not just addressing, inequities requires major shifts in how we approach the task of ensuring all youth are informed, motivated, and ready to vote.
Our CIRCLE Growing Voters report and framework, published last year, features dozens of recommendations for how various stakeholders can jumpstart those structural changes. One key imperative is starting early and working year-round, not in a cyclical way that often ignores youth until a few months before an election. With that in mind, we’ve distilled 24 key recommendations from the report that individuals, communities, and institutions can start working on now with an eye toward 2024—starting with one recommendation to help you assess how you can have an impact.
- Fill out our Mapping Your Community Ecosystem tool to understand the needs and opportunities in your community to deepen and diversify outreach to young people, and to get started on an action plan based on how you can contribute.
Start Early and Start Young
- It is never too early to start building civic responsibility: Talk in children’s and teen programs about voting as one of the tools people use to improve our communities.
- Social connections and a sense of belonging are foundational to civic engagement, and the years between national elections are the perfect time to get started! Create or support free spaces by and for teens where young people can connect with issues and with older community members through arts, media creation, and discourse—especially in ways that relatively equalize power relationships.
- More than 8 million young people have turned or will turn 18 between last year’s midterms and the 2024 election. Seek out some newly eligible youth and help them register them to vote.
- If your state offers pre-registration, confirm the age restrictions in your state and start helping 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register. Look for existing organizations in your community whose work registering teens and high schoolers you can plug into or check out national organizations and programs, like The Civics Center and High School Voter Registration Week, which have resources for hosting registration drives and launching new initiatives.
- Figure out which state statutes that help grow voters are in place in your state and find out how they are being enacted in your local school and community. (These are policies like voter education programs in schools and programs that allow teens to serve as poll workers.) Use this information to create and support opportunities for engagement for young people under 18, such as facilitating registration and GOTV in high schools.
- As you learn more about civic education at your local schools, examine resources made available for educators and administrators by the Teaching for Democracy Alliance. Introduce the Preparing Future Voters Pledge to educators in your community and advocate for their participation.
Education Leaders: Prepare Future Voters
If you’re a school or district leader, sign the Preparing Future Voters Pledge to join a cohort of school leaders who will receive access to monthly programming from June through December 2023, including workshops, panel discussions, and curated elections and voting instructional resources.
- Ask children in your life about issues they care about, encourage them to develop their own stances and opinions, and help them hone and wield their political voice. Support youth as they learn to connect their concerns with the decisions made by local, state, and national leaders, so they understand how voting can make a difference in their communities.
Build Youth Voice and Power
- Learn about and reflect on adultism: the tendency to assume that older people and those in power know more than youth and have the best solutions. Becoming aware of this bias that adults/older people might bring to an interaction with a younger person is an important step toward our society’s capacity to develop voters. Creating systems and practices to regularly integrate diverse young people’s voices and expertise in decision-making can help combat adultism.
- Encourage a young person to run for office. Point them to some of the many organizations and resources that offer training, support, and information for new candidates.
- Follow news stories about issues that matter to young people in your community and seek out publications that prioritize speaking to young people as sources.
- Support young people in exploring what civic engagement looks like “between cycles.” Invite teens and youth to join you in civic activities and help them to understand how their interests can connect to issues and opportunities for action in their communities.
- Build systems for youth voice in your institutional planning and decision-making, such as youth advisory councils or designated roles for youth in your organization.
- If you’re thinking about launching, volunteering for, or supporting a political campaign in 2024, plan and discuss how you are going to listen to young people and incorporate their voices into your team and work.
Work Local and Form Partnerships
- Identify off-cycle elections this year at the state, county, and local election that you can use as an opportunity for outreach to young people.
Elections in 2023
States with statewide elections in 2023 include: CO, KS, KY, LA, ME, MS, NJ, OK, OH, PA, VA, WA, WI. And localities within almost every state have elections for school board or municipal government which can be a great way for young people to connect to their local communities.
- Learn the voting laws in your state, especially those key to youth like same-day registration, automatic voter registration, and/or the ability to vote before age 18 in primaries or local elections. If they're not on the books, lobby your elected officials for them. If they are, help ensure they're being implemented and promoted effectively and equitably. Election officials can often use support doing so!
- Track changes in voting policy that may impact young voters so you are prepared to shift information and strategies to best support young people. Organizations and outlets like Brennan Center and Democracy Docket track the latest political and legal efforts to change voting laws.
- Identify and connect with organizations within your community that you can partner with for 2024 education and outreach efforts. Some potential partners: your local chapter of the League of Women Voters, local youth-led organizations like those in the Alliance for Youth Organizing, or other institutions you identified while mapping Your community ecosystem.
- Look beyond digital tools and social media to think about how to engage young people in your local community. Where do youth in your community spend time and get information offline? Are local news outlets accessible to young people, and do they report on issues in a way that supports young people’s engagement with them? Understanding the institutions and media sources that young people are connected to can help reach them with opportunities for election learning and engagement more effectively.
- Create, support, or amplify opportunities for young people to support the work of election offices, such as youth poll worker programs, youth-led outreach teams, and internships that allow young people to learn how elections work. Partnering with local nonprofits and schools is an effective way to facilitate the connection between young people and election offices; here’s a toolkit to help election officials get started.
Broaden Outreach and Provide Support
- Not all young people can afford to volunteer their time on civic engagement efforts. Secure funding to pay young people for their time in 2023 and 2024 so that a wider diversity of young people can participate in electoral work.
- Reach beyond college campuses to youth-serving organizations, GED programs, youth employment programs, and other organizations that reach young people who aren’t enrolled in high school or college. With so much youth outreach happening on campuses, these groups of youth may not feel they are welcome and valuable unless you intentionally include and invite them.
- Consider what barriers different groups of young people encounter when finding and participating in opportunities for civic learning and engagement. Do youth have or need transportation to meetings? Are work and family commitments getting in the way? Are there language barriers or distrust in some institutions? Reflect on how might your work be unknowingly perpetuating inequities in participation and strategize with partners on how to limit and overcome these barriers.
- Join the CIRCLE Growing Voters email list to make sure you get upcoming research, resources, and opportunities to connect with other individuals and organizations.
CIRCLE Growing Voters
Released in 2022, the CIRCLE Growing Voters report introduces a new framework to transform how communities and institutions prepare youth for democracy. It includes major recommendations for organizations across sectors to do this work more equitably and effectively.