State Laws Are Stifling Millennial Voter Turnout

Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Eric Essagof is a junior at The George Washington University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Voting laws have been introduced by state and local governments in the past few weeks.

The city of San Francisco is on the verge of becoming the first major city to lower the voting age to 16. Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) recently signed a bill that automatically registers every eligible voter in the state who does business with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

Even President Barack Obama got in on the fun, hinting that he might be in favor of a mandatory voting policy:

It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country, because the people who tend not to vote are young; they’re lower income; they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups; and they’re often the folks who are — they’re scratching and climbing to get into the middle class.
— President Barack Obama

Compulsory voting, a la Australia, is unlikely to happen. However, Obama has a point when it comes to one thing: Millennials are less likely to vote than any other age group. 

According to the US Census, only 45 percent of those aged 18 to 29 years old voted in the 2012 election. By contrast, voter turnout nationwide was 57.5 percent and a whopping 72 percent of those aged 65 and over showed up to the polls.

Apathy certainly plays a role in this lackluster turnout. Polls show that Millennials are growing increasingly cynical of the political process. However, there are also policies that actively prevent Millennials from voting.

Many states have been criticized for implementing unnecessary laws that require all voters to present photo identification at the polls. Opponents often argue that these laws solve a problem that does not exist, and disenfranchise minorities in the process. What these opponents often miss is that these laws impact young people as well.

For example, Texas will accept a concealed handgun permit as acceptable identification, but they will refuse to recognize a student ID. Young adults in college are less likely to have a drivers license because they rely on public and campus transportation. In 2012, voter ID laws excluded 700,000 young minority voters.

In North Carolina, election boards removed polling booths from college campuses and ended early voting opportunities for no apparent reason. A judge eventually ruled that the only possible reason for the decision was to disenfranchise young voters. 

Stories like these are all too common. Elected leaders and election boards across America feel they have something to gain by preventing young people from participating in the electoral process. Policy proposals like those undertaken in Oregon and San Francisco are helpful, but young people still face too many obstacles at the polls.

Eric Essagof is a MAP Policy Intern and a junior at The George Washington University pursuing a BA in Political Science. He is originally from Westport, CT, which is also the home of Paul Newman, Martha Stewart, and Josh Lyman. He has previously worked at LawStreetMedia.com, The Sheridan Group, and a Congressional office.


As a tax-exempt nonprofit organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Millennial Action Project (MAP) is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislative bodies in regards to policy and legislation. It is important to note guest authors frequently take firm stances on issues and policy matters that are currently being debated by policymakers; when they do, however, they speak for themselves and not for MAP, its board, council or employees.