Youth Voting Rights Are on the Docket in These Six States

Red background with a security guard checking the ids of three female-presenting young individuals colored blue

Earlier this month, Idaho students suffered a setback when a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging a voter suppression law that eliminates the use of student IDs as an acceptable form of identification for in-person voting. 

But hope is not at all lost. A separate lawsuit that challenges the same Idaho law — House Bill 124 —  was recently given the green light to proceed. 

And Idaho is home to just one of seven lawsuits across six states that are actively challenging laws passed since 2021 suppressing young and student voters, according to Democracy Docket’s case tracker.  

Lawsuits in Idaho, Montana and New Hampshire challenge some of the most blatant attacks on students. 

The lawsuit, brought by March for Our Lives Idaho and the Idaho Alliance for Retired Americans, describes H.B. 124 as a “surgical attack on Idaho’s young voters in response to their successful organizing efforts and increasing political power.” 

The groups claim that by removing student IDs — which are mostly possessed and used by young people — as proof of a voter’s identity, the legislation “singles out high school and college students and threatens their political participation,” in violation of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that voting rights “shall not be denied or abridged… by any State on account of age.” 

Just next door in Montana, state Republicans weren’t shy in attacking voting rights for young people, either. So much so that a single lawsuit challenges three laws — all passed in 2021 — for allegedly targeting young voters.  

One law, House Bill 506, prohibits the mailing of ballots to new voters who will be eligible to vote on Election Day but are not yet 18. This was not the case previously, and young voters have since been excluded from voting early “simply because of the arbitrary timing of their birthdays.” 

Senate Bill 169 instituted a new requirement that those voting with a student ID must accompany it with another form of acceptable identification. The groups allege that S.B. 169 “introduces discrimination into the system and imposes gratuitous barriers to voting,” pointing out that other forms of ID, like a concealed carry permit, do not require an additional form of identification. 

A third law, House Bill 176, eliminates Election Day voter registration for the vast majority of Montanans. The complaint argues that “young voters take advantage of Election Day registration at rates higher than other demographic populations,” and that the law deprives young voters of “an essential mechanism” for overcoming “structural barriers that make voting more difficult.”

A case out of New Hampshire alleges similar disproportionate burdens on young and student voters, challenging a law that requires voters — who register to vote for the first time on Election Day and do not have a valid photo ID — to vote on a separate affidavit ballot. Voters have seven days following the election to then provide documentation proving their identity, or their votes will be discarded.

This additional requirement results in a “two-tiered voting system disparately” burdening and negatively affecting “specific groups of New Hampshire voters” including young and student voters, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs also point out that these voters have traditionally had greater difficulty obtaining the requisite photo ID. 

Students in New Hampshire have long been subject to especially flagrant attacks on their right to vote. When Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2017, they passed a law requiring students to “provide documents that ‘demonstrate an intent to make a place [their] domicile’” indefinitely — something no other state did. Given that college students often return home to a different state during the summer, or move to a new one after they graduate, the requirement was especially burdensome. The law was ultimately struck down after the New Hampshire Superior Court ruled it violated the state constitution by imposing unreasonable burdens on the right to vote.

Data makes clear that requiring photo ID or a license to vote is especially challenging for young voters.

Lawsuits alleging disproportionate impacts on young voters due to restrictive voting laws are backed up by substantial evidence. A legal challenge to Ohio’s omnibus voter suppression law enacted in January of this year — which imposed stricter photo ID requirements and eliminated numerous forms of previously accepted ID — lays out the drastic effect.

Young voters in the state are far less likely to possess any of the acceptable forms of ID, as described in the lawsuit.  According to a 2017 study, “in Ohio, 38% of 18-year-olds, 28% of 19-year-olds, and 20% of those 20 to 24 do not have a driver’s license.” Additionally, Ohio students “are more likely to have out-of-state driver’s licenses, which are not acceptable photo ID” under the new law.

The lawsuit targeting Idaho’s H.B. 124 similarly points out that “according to the Federal Highway Administration only 59.7% of 18-year-olds, 68.3% of 19-year-olds, and 74.4% of 20-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2021.” 

While students are less likely to have a driver’s license, it is also especially difficult for them to visit a department of motor vehicles office to obtain a state identification card. As a result of not having a driver’s license or having an out of state license, young voters are “at increased risk of being disenfranchised,” the Ohio complaint asserts. 

Making matters worse, student IDs, which young voters are especially likely to possess, are “conspicuously” excluded from the list of acceptable forms of ID. Ohio students also can no longer use grade reports and other school documents containing their residential address as a valid form of ID rendering their status as a student in the state insufficient to exercise their right to vote there.

The changes have already had a devastating impact. In the August special election earlier this year for a proposal that would have made an abortion rights amendment (and all ballot initiatives) harder to pass, 124 provisional ballots were rejected due to a lack of valid ID in Miami University’s Butler County. In the November 2022 elections, which took place before the suppressive law was enacted, that number was just nine.  

Legislation that targets young and student voters isn’t always obvious. 

While some laws outwardly lay out how provisions are aimed at youth voters, like in Idaho and Montana, others are more opaque. Upon first glance, many of the laws passed by Republican legislatures seem to be attacking the right to vote more broadly, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the laws pose a significant and disproportionate burden on specific groups like young and student voters.

Take for example a lawsuit challenging provisions of North Carolina’s newly enacted omnibus voter suppression law, which was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D), but overridden by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The law imposes significant new burdens on same day voting, requiring same day registrants to produce a proof of residence document in addition to a photo ID, a burden other voters do not have to bear. 

The North Carolina lawsuit provides an example scenario. If a student recently moves to an off-campus apartment with a group of friends at the start of the school year, which is not long before an election but in time to vote in the county they now reside, it’s entirely possible the utilities would be in a roommate’s or landlord’s name, leaving an eligible voter helpless in obtaining acceptable proof of residence. 

An additional lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s new law was filed just this week, and also argues that the legislation disproportionately burdens young and student voters. 

The complaint highlights extensive evidence showing that young voters are especially reliant on same-day registration. Young voters made up nearly one-third of North Carolina residents who utilized the practice in the last four statewide elections and in 2020, nearly 64% of young voters (those aged 18-25) used same day voting to cast their ballots.

According to the plaintiffs in the case, the changes exacerbate “the known complexities and challenges of mail verification, particularly on or near college campuses, to prevent young and student voters from having their voices heard at the ballot box.”

As if burdens during the actual voting process weren’t enough, a Florida law hampers younger voters before they even make it to the polls. A lawsuit filed by Florida’s branch of the NAACP argues that, among other issues, provisions  of its latest omnibus voter suppression bill — Senate Bill 7050 — targeting third party voter registration organizations (3PVROs) violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. 

The law, which was enacted in May 2023, imposes fines for late-returned voter registration applications or ones submitted to the wrong county by 3PVROs, bars noncitizens and individuals with certain felony convictions from registering voters on behalf of 3PRVOs and makes it a felony for 3PVROs to retain voter information for any other purpose other than registering voters.

The retention ban is especially relevant to student voters because 3PRVOs are unable to use voter information to contact voters close to the election and encourage them to vote — “follow up that is especially important with young voters, who are often first-time voters and more likely to vote with encouragement from their peers.” 

Multiple plaintiffs in the lawsuit describe how the restrictions and penalties curb their efforts to help young Floridians vote, alleging that the legislation “imposes significant burdens on” their “First Amendment rights and the voting rights of the marginalized populations they serve,” like young voters. 

Voters of Tomorrow Action, Inc., one of the plaintiffs in the case, further claims that the law’s “new and increased fines and criminal penalties” have forced them to reassess their intent to register as a 3PVRO, despite the complaint alleging that Florida’s restrictive voter suppression law serves “no legitimate… state interest that would justify these limitations on Plaintiffs’ fundamental freedom to engage voters in the political process.” 

While Republican-controlled legislatures nationwide continue to pass restrictive voting legislation targeting young and student voters, ongoing lawsuits like these seeking to strike down suppressive laws could help students roll out of bed, vote and go back to bed, much to Cleta Mitchell’s dismay.