Close Menu

Facilitative Election Laws

Practices like automatic and online voter registration, as well as pre-registration for young people before they turn 18, can improve youth voter participation.

CIRCLE’s Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) utilizes data on demographics, conditions that support outreach, historical voting patterns, and projected competitiveness to produce a ranking of the states and districts where young people (ages 18-29) have the highest potential to cast decisive votes in the 2018 midterm elections. The YESI combines several composite indices (i.e., scores made up of multiple, related indicators) to produce an overall score that ranks upcoming races.

One of those indices measures Facilitative Election Laws. Research has shown that, just as restrictive election laws like photo ID requirements can negatively impact youth political engagement, facilitative election laws—especially related to voter registration—can have a positive effect. The YESI’s Facilitative Election Laws index is a composite score that measures four such electoral regulations. For each one, we assigned one point if the law/policy has been enacted and an additional point if it will be in effect by November 2018. Each of these facilitative laws carries potential for a small boost in voter registration and turnout.

The electoral laws are:

  • Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), through which citizens are automatically placed on the voter rolls when they interact with a government agency like the department of motor vehicles, is one of the most powerful tools to promote voter registration. While not part of the score, we looked at whether other state agencies besides the DMV are participating in automatic voter registration—an important consideration for equity, since it has the potential to extend AVR to young people who don’t drive. West Virginia (7th) is the only state in our Senate Race YESI Top 10 with both AVR points, while in our Governor Race Top 10 Colorado (3rd), Connecticut (4th) and Alaska (7th) have both points.
  • Pre-Registration for 16 or 17-year-olds can help young people start thinking about themselves as voters before they turn 18, developing an identity that can lead to lifelong political engagement. It provides a natural opportunity to foster conversations about elections in high school classrooms, which research has shown is linked to higher voter turnout later on. Crucially, youth can also avoid the time crunch of having to meet registration deadlines close to an election at age 18, a time when they may be busy with a transition from high school to college or to the workplace that may involve moving to a new city or state. As with AVR, we also looked at the involvement of multiple agencies.
  • Online Voter Registration (OVR) is now available in 37 states. For many young people, who are used to being able to conduct all sorts of business on a computer or mobile device, it is an especially attractive option. For OVR, we assigned an additional half point if the state’s online registration can be completely paperless, since eliminating additional steps (such as printing and mailing the form) presumably further facilitates the process. In both the Senate and Governor YESI rankings, 7 of the top 10 states have at least two points for online voter registration.
  • Same-day registration (SDR) allows citizens to register—or update their registration—on Election Day when they go to cast a ballot. There is strong evidence that SDR increases voter turnout, and may do so even more among young people that face additional barriers to voter registration. The top four states in both the Senate race (ND, MN, WI, MT) and Governor race (MN, ME, CO, CT) rankings all have both full SDR points.

In addition to these four laws focused on voter registration, the YESI’s Facilitative Election Laws score takes into account whether a state’s elections website includes content intended to inform populations who face specific barriers about their voting rights and processes. Specifically, we assigned one point (total, not each) if the state provided information about voting out of state, voting as a college student, and voting as an ex-felon.

We hope that the Youth Electoral Significance Index will continue to serve as a tool, not just to identify states and districts where young people might swing an election, but to consider some of the demographic, political, and legal factors that affect voter registration and turnout.