Allowing Americans to preregister to vote when they are 16 years old substantially increases the voting rates of Americans under 30. But preregistration policies are on the books in only 18 states and the District of Columbia. Taken together, same-day registration and preregistration policies have been found to close the voting gap between older and young Americans by about a third.
Perhaps more of the voting age gap could be closed if the United States were to lower the voting age to 16 years old. To say 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote, or that they could be too easily swayed by their parents, is to ignore all the immature 36-year-olds routinely swaying the votes of spouses. To say 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote is ageist.
Perhaps more of the voting age gap could be closed if all high school students were required to take a civics class that systematically instructed them on the voting process. Civics instruction through three standard high school courses started to decline in the 1960s, coinciding with a slump in the voting rates of young people—which makes sense, since there’s a link between civics courses and voter participation.
Perhaps more of the voting age gap could be closed if states met young people where they are—online. From 2000 to 2016, 32 states started allowing voters, mostly living oversees or serving in the military, to cast their ballots online. But in 2016, security experts and senior Obama-administration officials balked at expanding online voting over fear for the integrity of elections. New blockchain technology being used in states like West Virginia, however, provides the promise of a scalable and secure online-voting system.
With online voting, young (and older) people would not have to overcome the voter suppression tactics of closing polling stations, of changing the locations of polling stations, of placing polling stations in inaccessible locations, of understaffing polling stations, of equipping polling stations with voting machines prone to breaking—all to breed the confusion and long lines that lead to people not voting.
Read: Why Americans don’t vote
But with Republicans and moderate Democrats entrenched in federal and state power, I don’t see nationwide online voting on the horizon and I don’t see nationwide same-day registration on the horizon.
“Same-day registration often faces quiet opposition from powerful elected Democrats, many of whom came to power years ago and who are re-elected thanks to an electorate familiar (or even loyal) to them,” the voting-rights advocates Charlotte Hill and Jacob Grumbach wrote in The New York Times.
Both Republicans and moderate Democrats share a joint interest in not increasing the voting rates of young people. Republicans lose general elections to Democrats when young people vote in high numbers. Moderate Democrats lose primary elections to progressive Democrats when young people vote in high numbers. As Hill and Grumbach added, “Nobody wants to be a victim of the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ayanna Pressley.”
I do not know how serious some moderate Democrats are about the vitality of American democracy. I do not know if they value the vitality of American democracy over the vitality of their political careers.
Sanders is losing to Biden because America is losing young voters, persistently and systemically. Instead of relieving the victim of these ageist voting policies, Americans are blaming the victim with ageist ideas.
Blaming the victim is the American political creed. Its end does not appear near.