A July study by the 8-year-old Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, has found that election-day registration was the most effective state legal reform for raising turnout among youth voters in 2008.
Last November, the youth vote matched the record turnout of the 1972 election, the first year Americans aged 18-to-20 were allowed to cast ballots in presidential elections.
CIRCLE found that, after controlling for education, gender, age, race/ethnicity and marital status, “young Americans in the nine states with Election Day registration laws (EDR) were 41% more likely to vote than those living in states without EDR. … Before implementing EDR, Idaho, New Hampshire and Wyoming were amongst the worst states in terms of turnout inequality between young and older Americans. This gap has closed in all three states since EDR was implemented.”
Overall the youth voter turnout was 51.1% last November. But that greatly differed depending on locale. The highest was Washington, D.C., at 76%, while only 31% of youths voted in Hawaii.
While the CIRCLE researchers conceded that judging the impacts on voter turnout is more complicated than merely assessing the reforms of state election laws, five of the eight states with the highest youth vote in 2008 had election day registration (Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Maine). There were also other improvements in the nine states with election day registration:
Before implementing EDR, Idaho, New Hampshire, and Wyoming were among the worst states in terms of turnout inequality between younger and older Americans. After EDR laws took effect, all three states decreased this gap dramatically. Wyoming, for example, moved from 39th place to the 7th smallest turnout gap.
In 2008, on average, 59% of young Americans whose home state offered EDR voted; nine percentage points higher than those who did not live in EDR states. This was true for virtually all demographics of young Americans, with the exception of African American youth, who maintained a high turnout rate regardless of EDR.
Among the other findings:
Keeping polls open for more than 12 hours on election day increased the youth voting rate by 7% among full-time working youth and 5% among part-timers.
States requiring all registered citizens to be mailed information on polling locations produced higher youth turnout rates than states that did not require such action.
24% of 18- to 29-year-old voters from states allowing in-person early voting voted early and in person.
The study did not say how any of these actions affected older voters.