By: Julie Tulbert
As another election season wraps up, the eternal question remains: why don’t young people vote in midterm elections?
In general, the people that vote in any election represent a small slice of the population, and midterms turn out a smaller number of people than during Presidential elections. In turn, young people tend to vote less in elections than older voters. The 2014 midterms saw the largest numbers gap in a decade between voters under 30 and voters 60 or older. 37 percent of voters were 60 years old or older, while only 12 percent of voters were under 30 years old.
In North Carolina, voters under 30 also represented only 12 percent of the electorate. According to exit polls from the New York Times, 53 percent of 18-29 year olds cast their ballot for the Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, while Republican challenger (and winner) Thom Tillis received 39 percent of the vote. In 2008, Kay Hagan received 71 percent of the vote from 18-29 year olds in her election win over Republican Elizabeth Dole, who received only 24 percent from the under 30s.
The concerns about whether young people turn out to vote center on the idea that younger people tend to be more liberal and vote for Democratic candidates. Low voter turnout among younger people then tends to get part (or all) of the blame for poor showings from Democratic candidates.
Research suggests that young people stay away on Election Day for two reasons: (1) they are too busy or are unable to get to the polls, or (2) they are not interested in the election or think that their votes will not matter.
In North Carolina, these two reasons why young people do not vote potentially could have been complicated by changes to the location of polling places and changes to North Carolina’s election laws, including the new voter ID law.
In July, students from several North Carolina universities brought a challenge under the 26th Amendment that North Carolina’s Voter ID law suppressed the youth vote. This challenge is based on the reduction of early voting and the elimination of same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and early registration for 16 and 17-year-olds. This unique approach to understanding voting laws could potentially herald a new avenue for challenges.
Additionally, North Carolina’s Voter ID law may have impacted voter turnout among students. While the new law does not require photo ID until 2016, poll workers can still ask voters to show their IDs. North Carolina’s law does not accept student IDs, which could have added confusion to the voting process.
As stated above, the voter ID law eliminates out-of-precinct voting. Considering the mobility of college students and the moving of polling locations, this could have presented potential problems for college students. In Raleigh, one voting location for early voting saw a large number of voters turned away for voting at the wrong polling location.
At North Carolina State University, there was no on-site polling place for the midterms, despite the presence of one for the 2012 elections. The closet place to campus was 3.6 miles away. Despite this, voter turnout was up by 57 percent. Some of the difficulties of getting to the off-site polling location may have been alleviated by the Cosmo magazine competition NCSU students won to have a party bus carry students to and from the off-site voting location.
Appalachian State University retained their on-site location for early voting for the midterms after the Watauga County Elections Board voted to do away with the location. Following a challenge by students, the county elections board decided to restore the location.
New off-campus voting locations, confusion about voter ID, and the elimination of out-of-precinct voting are just some of the issues that might have discouraged college-age voters from turning out for this midterm election.