On student voting and active citizenship

By Rishi Shah

As a 2019 Johns Hopkins alumnus, I was glad to see my former university’s president, Ron Daniels, speak about the importance of civic education in the Washington Post. I wholeheartedly agree with President Daniels that “the most fundamental practice of democratic citizenship” is voting.

Unfortunately, college students and young voters aren’t participating in elections at the level they should. According to the US Census Bureau, turnout of voters under 29 was at just 36%, compared to 54.3% of all eligible voters who turned out in 2018. However, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters. The voter registration gap in young people is the driving force in low youth voter participation.

As new voters, young people often struggle to navigate the voter registration system, or forget to update their registration when they move from home to a college campus. When I was a student at Hopkins I set up voting registration tables on campus, where students could register to vote with someone on hand to answer their questions and walk them through the process. I’m glad to hear that student voter participation at Hopkins bucked the national trend in 2018--nearly 60% of registered student voters cast a ballot.  

As part of a robust civic education, universities should ensure their students are registered to vote. Universities should do more to encourage voter participation by incorporating voter registration and basic information about when, where, and how to vote into campus life. Policies like the Student Voter Empowerment Act, which is being considered by the Maryland General Assembly soon, are a good start and should be adopted coast to coast. To be ready to face tomorrow’s challenges, we need to prepare our students to be citizens in democratic society today.

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