State-by-State 2020 Youth Voter Turnout: The Northeast
Our final analysis of statewide youth voter turnout by region examines the electoral participation in young people in nine Eastern and Northeastern states. Key takeaways from this group of states include:
- New Jersey had the highest youth voter turnout in the nation: 67%.
- Despite being the only major swing state in the region, Pennsylvania had a similar youth voter turnout rate (54%) to other states in the East and Northeast. Perhaps relatedly, it’s the only state in the region (for which we have turnout data) without either pre-registration or automatic voter registration.
- Vermont and New Jersey which implemented full vote by mail programs in which they automatically sent ballots to every voter, saw the biggest increases in youth voter turnout compared to 2016: rising by 12 and 22 percentage points, respectively.
Turnout in the region among people ages 18-29 ranged from 43% in Rhode Island to a best-in-the-nation 67% in New Jersey. Maine, which had a highly watched U.S. Senate race, also had a strong youth voter turnout (61%), while most other states in the region were just above or below 50%. New Jersey also had the largest increase in youth turnout, 22 percentage points higher than its 2016 rate of 35%, when it was 10th in the nation in youth participation. The second-highest turnout increase in the region belonged to Vermont, where youth voting increased 12 percentage points: from 37% to 49%. Crucially, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both of these states adopted programs in 2020 to mail ballots to all registered voters so that they could more easily vote by mail; in other regions, notably in the West where all-mail elections are more common, we saw that policy correlate with higher voter turnout. It is noteworthy that neither New Jersey nor Vermont were battleground states, which suggests that electoral laws and policies may have a higher impact on youth participation than competitiveness.
Generally, states in the East and Northeast make it relatively easier to register to vote. Six of the nine states in this analysis have pre-registration, and five of nine have automatic voter registration. Pre-registration, which allows 16- and 17-year olds to register, is a key recommendation in our Growing Voters framework that aims to ensure we start preparing youth to participate in democracy long before they turn 18. According to the 2018 Elections and Voting survey, Delaware had the highest share of pre-registrations in the region in 2018 (2020 data is not yet available); in this most recent election, it had one of the the lowest gaps between the voter turnout of youth ages 18-19 (49%) and of youth ages 18-29 turnout (52%).
Some highlights on other notable states:
Maine (61%) was one of four states in the country with a youth voter turnout rate above 60%—New Jersey, Minnesota, and Colorado were the others. The state built on a strong foundation: in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, it was among the top-5 states in youth voter turnout. Maine had closely watched races for both President and for the U.S. Senate, and the state has a number of statutes that support young people’s electoral participation, like voter registration in schools.
Rhode Island’s turnout (among the overall, all-ages electorate) increased to an all-time high and was on par with the national average. But, while in most states the growth in youth voter turnout from 2016 to 2020 outpaced the increase among older voters, in Rhode Island the increase was about the same (5-6 percentage points) both among youth and among the overall electorate. While Rhode Island has a number of pro-voter policies in place, unlike other states in the region it also has a voter ID law; a study of this policy found a negative impact on voter turnout. Additionally, we found that, one month out from the election, voter registration of young people aged 18-24 in Rhode Island lagged significantly from where it was in 2016.
Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, and Maryland were not included in this regional analysis due to a lack of reliable age data on the voter file.