Launch in new window

DJ's Choice

You are here

Fighting suppression of the Youth Vote in the United States

15 February, 2024

Interview by Beth Torrance, adapted by Mahdhi Osman-Penrice

Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland, Jennifer Frost, says complex voting requirements that differ between states make youth voter participation challenging. 

In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing citizens 18 years and older the right to vote in local and state elections.

However, young people between 18 and 29 have significantly lower voting turnout than older generations, with those 60 and over being the most likely to participate in elections.

Associate Professor of History at the University of Auckland and author of “‘Let Us Vote!’: Youth Voting Rights and the 26th Amendment,” Jennifer Frost, told 95bFM’s The Wire that measures in place make it difficult for youth to engage in the political system.

“The youth vote has been suppressed since the beginning.”

According to Frost, many states and cities have residency requirements, which make it necessary to live there for a certain length of time to vote, and a person's living space must be their permanent residence to be eligible to vote in that area.

The US also has complex voter identification laws, which Frost believes work against younger voters. 

“A lot of young people in the United States don’t have driver’s licence because they don’t drive. Especially if they live in cities.”

“You have states where a gun licence counts for a voter ID, but a student ID doesn’t.”

Frost says the nature of American legislation, which differs between states and counties, presents a real challenge to youth voter participation. 

“The so-called ‘blue states’ that are run by Democratic leadership, have actually been opening up voting rights in all sorts of ways for young people. The so-called ‘red states’, which are dominated by Republican political leadership, they're clamping down.” 

To counter inconsistency in voting laws across the country, there have been calls for Federal Voting Legislation, which would be applied nationwide.

But Frost says because of the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives, nothing is progressing when it comes to voting rights legislatively.

However, she argues grassroots organising to encourage young people to make their voices heard is just as important ahead of the 2024 US presidential election.

“Young people have been registering and turning out in greater numbers than they had since the early 70s… there is very much a feeling that something is at stake here”.

“We have to directly encourage young people to participate and then help them through it, especially if there's a maze of regulations that they have to deal with.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air