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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. That was an important step in broadening the electorate and empowering young people to participate in democracy. But, five decades later, the promise of the 26th Amendment remains partially unfulfilled. Opportunities and information about elections are often inequitably distributed, and the youngest eligible voters tend to cast ballots at lower rates than the rest of the electorate, and even than their slightly older peers. We estimate that, in 2020, 50% of youth under 30 voted, but among youth ages 18-19 the turnout rate was 46%. As long as the youngest Americans vote at lower rates, they remain underrepresented in political life, and inequalities today can lead to sustained inequality for decades to come.

To explore this topic from the perspective of young people themselves, we're excited to present our 2021 Youth Expertise Series: Fulfilling the Promise of the 26th Amendment. In a series of essays based on their own experiences, young people share insights into what they have seen work to engage the youngest eligible voters in their own schools and communities, and what they believe still needs to improve and change.

Read the youth expertise essays below; more will be added in the coming days and weeks.

Schools Can Help Prepare Young People to Vote Before they Turn 18

Boston University freshman Azima Aidarov writes that schools must create opportunities that give students both information and motivation to vote.

Give Youth Both Knowledge and Personal Connections to Politics

Brigham Young University sophomore Sydney Ward writes about the importance of providing information and meaningful experiences.

To Increase the Youth Vote, Address the Why and the How

University of Arizona junior Bita Mosallai writes that peer-to-peer motivation and guidance on the voting process are key to increasing electoral engagement.

Why A Youth Expertise Series?

CIRCLE deeply values young people’s views and experiences, and we believe they have crucial expertise to share about the issues that affect their own civic participation. We see this initiative as a way to amplify the voices of our younger peers in the civic engagement world, to increase knowledge across the field, and to promote new connections and conversations among people involved with research, policy, and practice. In 2020, we published a youth expertise series on how communities can increase, diversify, and sustain youth civic and political engagement.

For the 2021 youth expertise series, we solicited proposals from youth (ages 14-24) or collaborations between youth and older adults whose content was driven by young people. CIRCLE staff and summer fellows assessed and selected proposals, provided feedback, and worked with the submitters to publish each short essay. Young people whose proposals were selected were offered an honorarium of $200 for individual contributions, or $100 each for participants who worked together as a group.