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Elections Q&As for Lawmakers: How Can We Increase Young Voter Turnout?

To overcome low turnout by voters ages 30 and younger, some states are looking to policy options such as automatic voter registration and preregistration.

By Lesley Kennedy  |  January 29, 2024

About this series: NCSL hosted legislators and legislative staff in December 2023 to answer common questions surrounding election processes and options, with an eye toward bill drafting in 2024 and beyond. Experts delved into topics ranging from absentee and mail voting and the role of poll watchers to technology and maintaining clean voter rolls. State Legislatures News broke down the questions and answers to help inform lawmakers on the intricacies of elections. Check Elections Q&As for Lawmakers often for more information.

The Expert: Charles Stewart III, political science professor at MIT and director of the MIT Election Data + Science Lab

Turnout by voters ages 30 and younger is a big issue in the United States, Stewart says, and how to get the age group to the polls is one of the most frequently asked questions he receives.

Top Two Takeaways

  • Automatic voter registration captures young voters during routine government interactions, such as obtaining a driver's license, helping to maintain accurate voter rolls.
  • Preregistration initiatives ensure young citizens are ready to vote as soon as they turn 18, boosting engagement and making them visible to campaign outreach efforts.

 It’s a hard question to answer, he says, but social science tells us the low voter turnout rate of young people is likely because of their high mobility rates.

“They move around a lot, so they fall off of voter rolls,” Stewart says.

To overcome this issue, he points to policy options such as automatic voter registration and preregistration. Automatic voter registration ensures that when citizens interact with government services—like getting a driver’s license—they are simultaneously enrolled to vote. Preregistration, on the other hand, prepares those under 18 for civic engagement by getting them on the voter rolls early, allowing for a smooth transition to voter status upon reaching legal age.

Lesley Kennedy is NCSL’s director of publishing and digital content. 

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