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Annapolis-- The Student Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, failed to get enough votes to move out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28th. When brought to a vote, the Committee voted 5-5, one vote short of moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration.
College students, university faculty and staff, and organizations including Maryland PIRG, Common Cause Maryland, the Maryland League of Women Voters, Generation Progress and Black Girls Vote supported the Student Voter Empowerment Act as a means to increase civic participation. The bill would have required universities to establish plans for student voting and would have added polling locations on Maryland campuses with large numbers of undergraduate students.
“Our universities should do more to help students register and vote”, said Rishi Shah, a democracy associate at Maryland PIRG. “This bill would have built life-long habits of civic engagement and voting, and we’re disappointed it didn’t pass.”
Specifically, the student voting plans proposed by the bill would have included steps that universities would take to educate students about the voting process.
Low levels of youth voter turnout have been well documented, and experts say that one of the primary causes is the voter registration gap between younger and older voters. In 2018, only 54% of Marylanders aged 18-24 were registered to vote, compared to 66% of Marylanders over the age of 18.1 However, young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters.2
“Our educational system teaches students about the government structure and how bills become laws, but students aren’t taught how to register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot,” said Shah. “First-time voters often struggle to navigate a voter registration system that is brand-new to them, and the complexities and complications can deter new voters from turning out.”
A link to the Senate vote breakdown can be found here.
Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is a state based, non-partisan, citizen funded public interest advocacy organization with grassroots members across the state and a student funded, student directed chapter at the University of Maryland College Park. For forty five years we’ve stood up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
 “Reported Voting and Registration by Age, for States: November 2018”, US Census Bureau, .
 Shapiro, Vicki. “Don’t Blame Gen-Z. It’s the Registration Gap,” 4 February 2020, The Civics Center.
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