July 12, 2022

Hirono, Warren, and Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Expand Youth Access to Voting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Youth Voting Rights Act, comprehensive legislation to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and expand youth access to voting. This legislation, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), was also introduced in the House by Representative Nikema Williams (D-GA).

“Every eligible American, including youth voters who turn 18, should be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Senator Hirono. “Public officials around the country are making decisions that will affect young people for generations to come, and they deserve to have a say in how these decisions are made. As we continue fighting to protect voting rights, the Youth Voting Rights Act will make it easier for young people to vote in elections and expand youth participation in our democracy, especially for historically disenfranchised groups like young people of color and young people with disabilities. I’ll continue working to protect and expand voting rights for young people and all Americans.”

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, formally ratified on July 1, 1971, prohibits the denial of the right to vote on account of age for all citizens aged 18 or older. But over fifty years after its ratification, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s promise remains unfulfilled. Young voters participate in elections at lower rates than voters in older age cohorts. Their provisional ballots and mail-in ballots are rejected at disproportionate rates. And they routinely face serious obstacles to voter registration and in-person voting.

Voting is a fundamental right in any democracy, as bipartisan supermajorities in Congress and the states nearly unanimously recognized when the United States adopted the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in the fastest ratification process in American history. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Empower individuals and the government to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. The bill creates a private right of action to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and establishes a national standard of review for such lawsuits.
  • Expand voter registration services at public colleges and universities. The bill designates offices at all public institutions of higher education as “voter registration agencies” under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, imposing voter registration obligations on these institutions.
  • Allow young people in every state to pre-register to vote before turning 18. To ensure that young people can vote as soon as they turn 18, the bill requires states to establish pre-registration processes for 16- and 17-year-olds and allows states to expand their processes to youth younger than 16.
  • Require institutions of higher education to have on-campus polling places. The bill ensures the availability of polling places on campuses of institutions of higher education, removing one of the most significant barriers to youth voting access.
  • Prohibit durational residency requirements for all federal elections. The bill extends the Voting Rights Act’s protections against durational residency requirements and absentee voting limitations to all federal elections, not only elections for President and Vice President, and codifies the right to vote from a college domicile.
  • Guarantee that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements. The bill mandates the acceptance of student IDs to meet state voter-identification requirements in federal elections.
  • Create a grant program dedicated to youth involvement in elections. The bill creates a grant program for states to encourage youth involvement in elections, including through pre-registration, updated civics curricula, and a paid fellowship for young persons to work with state and local officials to support youth civic and political engagement.
  • Gather data on youth voter registration and election participation. The bill requires the federal government to study voter registration, absentee voting, and provisional voting trends by age and race to inform efforts to improve youth involvement in elections.

The full text of the legislation can be found here. A one-page summary can be found here.

Senator Hirono has been a long-time champion of voting rights legislation and protections. Last month, she cosponsored the Register America to Vote Act, which would require every state to create a system to register all eligible citizens to vote when they turn 18, and ensure all eligible voters are covered by automatic registration through motor vehicle agencies. At the start of the pandemic, Senator Hirono introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, legislation to ensure that Americans are able to vote, even in a public health emergency, by expanding early in-person voting and absentee vote-by-mail to all states. In March 2020, she also called on the Senate to pass the For the People Act, to expand voting access for Americans.

Senator Hirono also cosponsored the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 to protect the right to vote and ensure equal access to the electoral process for Native communities. She is also a cosponsor and strong advocate of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, and last December, she delivered remarks on the Senate floor urging her colleagues to pass voting rights legislation.

In addition to Senators Hirono and Warren, the Youth Voting Rights Act is also cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The House companion legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), John Sarbanes (D-MD), and Deborah Ross (D-NC).

The bill is endorsed by a wide range of democracy and youth organizations including: American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Campaign Legal Center, Demos, League of Women Voters of the United States, End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund, MoveOn, NextGen America, The Andrew Goodman Foundation, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, When We All Vote, the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, Students Learn Students Vote, The Civics Center, and Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy in Higher Education. 

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