After the busy and at times tumultuous 2020 election season, Republican and Democratic leaders have been making a vast amount of changes to some of the logistical aspects of voting. The United States House of Representatives passed a new voting rights bill on March 3 promising to increase access to the right to vote. The bill includes provisions to create independent commissions to create congressional districts as a way to avoid the partisan process of gerrymandering. Additionally, the bill also contains measures to disclose donations of super PACs and other political groups as well as for presidential candidates to release their tax returns. If passed in the Senate, the bill would greatly impact voting rights in the United States with more uniform voting rules across the country.
Meanwhile, at state and local levels, many Republican officials are restricting some voting laws, including changing many measures that impact early and mail-in voting. Democrats are hoping to use the new bill passed by the House to protect the right for many Americans to vote, particularly those in minority communities. The impact of the changed voting laws, especially in competitive swing states, could have a long-lasting effect on American politics.
For college students, these new changes to voter registration and the process of voting are imperative to understand, even though they can be confusing and vary widely among states, counties and congressional districts. Considering college students are a part of the largest demographic of eligible voters, changes to voter registration and voter accessibility are important to comprehend. Additionally, young voters, although they are a part of the largest demographic of eligible voters, are also the demographic group with some of the consistently lowest voter turnout rates. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 38% of eligible voters 18-24 years old voted in the 2012 election. Voter turnout in this group has declined for years following its record high of 50.9% in 1964. Midterm elections tend to have even lower voter turnout rates.
Difficulties of registering to vote can vary by state. In Michigan eligible voters must be a Michigan resident for at least 30 days prior to the election, a U.S. citizen, 18 years old and not currently serving a prison sentence, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Additionally, it is required that the voter be able to prove where they live, and it is possible to register to vote on election day.
Freshman Ashley Wood reflected on some of the challenges of registering to vote for the first time. “It was really difficult for me, kind of went in a circle, took a while to find someone to help out. It was hard and stuff, and it worked out in the end, but it was frustrating. If it was difficult for me, I imagine it could also be difficult for others,” she said.
Michigan allows voter registration online, and absentee ballots and early voting are currently allowed. A valid photo ID is also required to vote. In terms of her Election Day experience, Wood said, “The day of was fairly easy. I just went there and showed them my license and went in. I have seen on the news some long lines, but it wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t really have to wait.”
A record number of 5.5 million Michigan residents voted in the 2020 election. Voter turnout rates for the 2020 election were the highest since 1960. In the election of 1960, 71% of Michigan voters over 18 years old voted, according to the Associated Press. The state’s voter turnout rate also increased by 8.8%, according to the Pew Research Center.
Voter turnout rates among college students were also shown to be higher during the 2020 election cycle. 71% of college students said they would certainly vote during the 2020 election, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities. These statistics reflect broader trends of young people becoming more politically active and engaged in politics and current events.