Young adults as a group tend to participate less in electoral politics than other demographic age groups. According to the latest U.S. Census, in 2010, 34% of 18-20 year olds reported being registered to vote, as compared to over 57% of adults 35-44 and 72% of adults 65 years and older.
However, young people who are registered tend to turn out in fairly high numbers, similar to the rates of older voters. And once young people register and vote the first time, they are far more likely to continue to participate — a critical first step toward developing a lifetime habit of responsible civic participation.
Colleges and universities can play a key role in helping students develop this habit of responsible, active citizenship earlier in their lives. In addition, having more engaged students help create a stronger culture of engagement on the college campuses themselves.
But registering to vote is a complicated process in the U.S. Each state has its own process, laws, and forms for voter registration. Likewise for absentee ballots. But, as affirmed the US Supreme Court in 1979, college students have a legal right to register and vote either at their school address or at their permanent address. As such, the logistical challenges for colleges and universities to offer registration services for all 50 states are considerable — and can be overwhelming.
The UVote Project is designed to make 50-state voter registration as streamlined and accessible as possible for colleges and universities across the country. Rather than having each school tackle these logistical challenges, UVote takes the lead in providing schools with a system that simplifies the process of registering in any state — enabling students to register and start voting at the same time as they start their college careers.
Universities are bound not only by their educational and civic missions to promote voter registration, but also by federal law. The Higher Education Act of 1998 requires federally-funded colleges and universities to make a good-faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to every student, and to make those forms widely available on campus.
UVote works towards a future where every eligible voter who turns 18 and starts college also gets registered to vote. After all, most young people arrive at college at the age of first eligibility to register to vote and are seeking new opportunities to learn about and engage with the world. Voter registration—like late-night study sessions, playing frisbee on the quad and ramen noodles—should be synonymous with the college experience.