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Turnout Among Young Voters Significantly Higher in Vote at Home States, Report Finds

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Created: 10 September, 2023
Updated: 11 September, 2023
4 min read

As the political landscape in the US shifts and some states find ways to offer their citizens more accessible elections, young voters are challenging conventional political wisdom in a significant way and are turning out in big numbers in states that allow them to cast a ballot from home.

New research from the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) found that citizens in the 18-34 age range appeared much more likely to turnout in states with “Vote at Home” systems – in this case meaning states that automatically send out absentee ballots to eligible voters.

For example, 2020 turnout in this age range among all eligible voters – looking at registered and unregistered citizens – was 64% in New Jersey (a Vote at Home state), the highest 18-34 turnout in states looking at this particular data set.

New Jersey’s turnout far exceeded the national average for eligible 18-34-year-olds, which the paper reports was 50%. NVAHI’s research found that 6 of the top 10 states in the 2020 presidential election for all eligible young voters had “Vote at Home'' election systems.

“Oregon, Washington, Colorado, California, and Nevada also made this “Top 10” list for 18-34 eligible citizen turnout. Only one of these states – Nevada – was a 2020 presidential battleground,” the report states.

The report heavily emphasizes non-battleground vs battleground states. People expect the highest turnout numbers to be in the states that have the most impact on presidential elections, since voters are more likely to think their vote matters in battleground states.

And yet, the highest voter turnouts among eligible 18-34 citizens were in non-battleground “Vote at Home” states. Even a state like California, which is deep blue, made the top 10, despite what logic might lead one to assume about what its turnout should look like.

Only one non-VAH battleground state made the top 10 list – Michigan at 58%.

According to the Census Bureau, there were an estimated 65 million eligible voters in 2020 between the ages of 18 and 34. The NVAHI report says if every state had a turnout like New Jersey, over 9 million additional votes would have been cast.

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“Despite billions spent by the major political parties on media ads, voter registration drives, and other Get out the Vote efforts targeting young voters, it was non-battleground, Vote at Home states that dominated the list of Top Turnout states for young voters in 2020,” said NVAHI Executive Director Barbara Smith Warner.

When the data was condensed down to active registered voters, 8 of the top 15 states used this system, including Montana which had an 86% 18-34 turnout. No matter how states were compared, NVAHI found that Vote at Home states had the highest turnout among young voters.

The report says only two non-VAH battlegrounds made the top 15 list when looking at active registered voter data – Pennsylvania (75%) and North Carolina (71%).

Vote at Home jurisdictions collectively had a 72% turnout rate among active registered 18-34 voters. Only 4% of these voters lived in battleground Nevada. The collective turnout for the 7 battlegrounds listed in the report (AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, OH, and PA) was 65%.

“Had 18-34 ARV turnout in 2020 battleground states matched the average in Vote at Home states, more than 1 million additional 18-34s would have cast ballots in just those seven states,” the report states.

The report’s author, NVAHI CEO and former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keilsing, notes in the report that what it offers is not meant to be taken as “rigorous academic research.” The report presents “correlations, not peer-reviewed, coefficient-controlled research studies.”

There are many variables that go into voter turnout, including voter incentive and motivation. At no point does the paper say 2020 turnout would have unequivocally been higher if all states used Vote at Home systems.

Keilsing says there is “a great need for far more – and better – research in this arena, especially analysis that can be readily grasped and understood by non-academics.”

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But the report does highlight the impact election systems can have on voter turnout and the potential reforms that offer greater accessibility and inclusion can have on participation. And if the potential is there, isn’t it worth looking further into?

The report concludes with two questions to consider: 

“First, if every American voter already does – or theoretically could, under particular circumstances – legally qualify to receive a mailed-out ballot by applying for one, why have an application process at all?”

“And second, if voting really is the most foundational of all our constitutional rights, why should it be the voter’s obligation to connect with her or his ballot – rather than the responsibility of the government whose officials they elect to serve all the people?”

Read the full report here.

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