How Republicans Target Young Voters

A group of young people with small targets on their backpack against a red background with upside down I Voted stickers scattered around the image.

Young voters have turned out in record numbers in recent elections. Youth turnout in this year’s midterm elections was one of the highest for a midterm in 30 years — second only to the last midterms in 2018. But rather than celebrate this civic achievement, Republicans are targeting young voters for their heavily liberal lean and passing laws restricting young voters’ ability to vote. Unfortunately, Republicans have many tools at their disposal to suppress young votes — here are some ways they make it harder for young Americans to vote.

What the law does: S.B. 1260 requires Arizona counties to cancel a voter’s registration if election officials receive confirmation that the voter has registered in another county. Counties aren’t required to notify the voter.

How S.B. 1260 targets young voters: Younger voters move more frequently than older voters and as a result are more likely to have multiple voter registrations. S.B. 1260 puts such voters at risk of having their registrations canceled without notice, an error young voters might not know about until they try to vote. A lawsuit against the law even argues that S.B. 1260 could be used as a tool “ to systematically target groups that are more likely to move, register to vote in multiple counties… such as young voters [and] college students.”

Status of law: A judge temporarily blocked the cancellation provision of S.B. 1260 while litigation is ongoing.

What the law does: Among the many voter suppression provisions of S.B. 202 is a wet signature requirement. Voters must sign their absentee ballot applications with pen and ink and cannot use an e-signature, even though e-signatures are widely accepted in Georgia in other contexts.

How S.B. 202 targets young voters: Since young voters are less likely to have access to a printer, S.B. 202 makes it harder for these voters to request an absentee ballot, as to do so requires either finding access to a printer or requesting a hard copy of a form be mailed to them. As a result, the law “imposes unnecessary procedural hoops” in the absentee voting process that impacts younger voters more than others.

Status of law: A lawsuit has been filed challenging S.B. 202’s wet signature provision. While the requirement remains in effect, litigation is ongoing.

What the law does: H.B. 1878 restricts the forms of acceptable ID that voters in Missouri can use to vote. Previously, voters who lacked an acceptable ID could still cast their ballots provided they sign an affidavit and present another form of ID, like a student ID or out-of-state driver’s license. Under H.B. 1878, voters instead will have to vote using a provisional ballot that may not be counted.

How H.B. 1878 targets young voters: For some young voters, a student ID might be the only form of identification they possess. Other voters who moved to Missouri to attend college often lack a Missouri driver’s license but may have one from another state. Under H.B. 1878, these voters will have to jump through procedural hoops to either obtain a valid ID or ensure their provisional ballot is counted. The law not only creates additional steps in the voting process for young voters, but also raises the risk that their votes won’t be counted.

Status of law: The ID portions of H.B. 1878 remain in effect.

What the law does: S.B. 169 strengthened Montana’s photo ID requirements. The only forms of identification sufficient for voting by themselves under the law include a Montana driver’s license or ID card, the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number, a military ID, a tribal ID, a passport or a Montana concealed carry permit. If a voter does not have one of these forms of ID, they have to present another type of photo ID and an official document showing their name and address. 

How S.B. 169 targets young voters: The law specifically excludes student IDs from the list of sufficient forms of identification, requiring students to either present another photo ID or other official documents they will likely “not have access to.” When striking down S.B. 169, a Montana judge concluded that the law had “the intent and effect of placing increased barriers on young Montana voters.”

Status of law: After the trial court struck down the law, the secretary of state appealed the decision. Litigation is ongoing, but the law is currently blocked.

What the law does: S.B. 319 bans political committees from engaging in voter registration and education activities on college campuses in Montana.

How S.B. 319 targets young voters: Voter registration drives on college campuses are an important tool used by political and civic organizations to boost turnout among young voters. Young voters also tend to be less informed about voting and may need to be educated about relevant deadlines, voting options and other details about the process. Banning committees from engaging in these activities on campuses removes an important resource for young voters interested in exercising their rights.

Status of law: A state court struck down S.B. 319 and the state declined to appeal the decision, meaning the law is no longer in effect.

What the law does: H.B. 506 prohibits election officials from mailing ballots to voters who have not yet turned 18 but will be 18 by Election Day.

How H.B. 506 targets young voters: This law essentially prevents voters who turned 18 in the month before Election Day from voting by mail, a method that is otherwise available to all other voters in the state. Instead, these voters will have no option but to vote in-person. A state judge found that this “severely interferes” with these voters’ right to vote and struck down the law for violating the right to suffrage in the Montana Constitution.

Status of law: The secretary of state did not appeal the decision striking down H.B. 506, so the law remains blocked.

What the law does: H.B. 3107 codifies a 2018 rule that requires voter registration forms to include the voter’s “original” signature, i.e. one made with pen on paper. The rule effectively blocks voters from using online registration tools or using an e-signature on their voter registration forms.

How H.B. 3107 targets young voters: Young voters are less likely than older voters to have access to a printer and are more likely to rely only on mobile devices for internet access. To submit a registration form with the proper signature requires finding a printer or traveling to an elections office to obtain a hard copy in person. As a result, Texas’ signature rule creates “administrative, informational, and temporal burdens” that “disproportionately fall on younger” voters.

Status of law: Although a federal judge blocked H.B. 3107, the state of Texas appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit, which reinstated the law while litigation is ongoing.

What the law does: S.B. 1111 imposes strict residency requirements on Texas voters. The law prohibits individuals from registering to vote at an address where they don’t live full-time and adds strict photo ID requirements for voters who use a P.O. box to register.

How S.B. 1111 targets young voters: Young voters, especially college students, tend to move more frequently than older voters and may temporarily relocate for part of the year. S.B. 1111 restricts young voters’ ability to register either at their homes or at the place they’ve temporarily relocated to, like their college town. A district court judge struck down S.B. 1111 for exactly this reason, writing that under the law, “a college student cannot acquire a residence” in their college town but also can’t “designate as a residence [their] home town,” disenfranchising “at minimum, the part-time and off-campus college student.” Elections officials themselves were unable to explain where students could properly register to vote.

Status of law: After the district court struck S.B. 1111 down, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision, meaning S.B. 1111 is currently in effect.

These laws demonstrate the myriad of ways Republicans can use to prevent young voters from exercising their rights. Rather than try to modify their policies to win young voters’ trust and support, the GOP would rather erect barriers so these younger generations don’t vote at all. With most state legislatures beginning new legislature sessions in January, don’t be surprised if we see more laws targeting young voters next year.