July 11, 2022

Senator Warren, Rep. Williams to Introduce Bill to Expand Youth Access to Voting

Text of Bill (PDF) | One Pager (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) will introduce the Youth Voting Rights Act, comprehensive legislation to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and expand youth access to voting. This legislation is co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.). In the House of Representatives, this legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Deborah Ross (D-N.C.).

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 the beating heart of our democracy. Young people are the future of America, and with voting rights under attack across the country, we must do everything we can to ensure they can exercise their right to vote. My new bicameral bill with Congresswoman Williams will ensure young people aren’t left out of the voting process, and I’m thrilled to partner with her and my colleagues on this effort,” said Senator Warren.

“Our democracy is stronger when our youth are heard at the ballot box. Unfortunately, young citizens still face disproportionate barriers to voting. We must do more to strengthen democratic access across generations. I am proud to join with Senator Elizabeth Warren to introduce the Youth Voting Rights Act so we can end age-based barriers to voting. Everyone deserves free and fair access to the ballot box–no matter your age, no matter your ZIP Code,” said Representative Nikema Williams.

“More than 50 years since the ratification of the 26th Amendment, young people participate in elections at significantly lower rates than the rest of the population because of barriers to voting,” said Sen. Booker. “This comprehensive legislation will bolster youth voter participation by expanding voter registration services and requiring polling places in institutions of higher education while also guaranteeing that states accept broader forms of ID that meet voter-identification requirements. At a time when voting rights are under attack across the nation, we need to encourage young Americans to participate in our democratic process and this bill ensures they have the access to the ballot box to do just that.” 

“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.”

“It has never been more important to protect the health of our democracy and defend the most fundamental right of every American – the right to vote,” said Senator Markey. “The Youth Voting Rights Act will ensure young Americans, who represent the future of our democracy, are equal parts eager and empowered to participate in their first election by the time they turn eighteen.”

“Across the country, the right to vote is under coordinated attack by special interests, and young people are among the prime targets,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “That’s a big problem, because young voters stand to lose the most from being denied a voice in our democracy.  It’s our younger generation that will face the long-term consequences of our political challenges – like stymied action on climate change, gun violence, and reproductive rights.  We need to defend their right to vote.”

“For our democracy to thrive, young voters need to be full participants in elections and have the ability to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. And yet, young voters, particularly youth of color, face unique and growing obstacles to voting,” Senator Wyden said. “I’m proud to cosponsor the Youth Voting Rights Act, which contains crucial provisions that will close the gap in voting rates between younger and older Americans, and ensure the promises of our Constitution are universally fulfilled.”

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 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. 

“The ACLU is proud to support the Youth Voting Rights Act. Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy and it must never be infringed. Young people face serious obstacles when registering to vote and casting a ballot. We must do all we can to ensure young people have unrestricted access to the ballot box, especially given the upcoming federal elections.” - Bobby Hoffman, Deputy Director of the ACLU Democracy Division

“Democracy is how we work together to solve the pressing issues of our times. When democracy works best, it also secures the future, and the future belongs to young people. Common Cause and our more than 1.5 million supporters and members commend Senator Warren and Representative Williams for introducing the Youth Voting Rights Act, important legislation that enhances opportunity and participation for young people. Common Cause is proud of our history helping to advance the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18. There is more work to do so that it lives up to its promise of a more empowered, reflective, and representative democracy. The Youth Voting Rights Act is another important step forward in the march toward inclusivity.” - Karen Hobert Flynn, President, Common Cause 

“Our democracy is strongest when every voice is heard, including those of our young voters. The League of Women Voters of the United States strongly supports this legislation to make voting more accessible for young voters by breaking down obstacles they continue to face when registering to vote or casting a ballot. We must equip young voters with the necessary resources to fully participate in the democratic process if we want to create strong and engaged citizens.” - Jessica Jones Capparell, Director of Government Affairs, League of Women Voters of the United States

The Youth Voting Rights Act is the most comprehensive measure introduced by Congress to uphold the promise of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 and outlaws age discrimination in access to the ballot. Fifty years ago, the nation came together, nearly unanimously, and across partisan lines to ratify the Amendment in record time. Yet, young people continue to face special burdens to vote due to inaccessible polling locations and voter registration and identification requirements that are out of reach to this protected class. The Act will do what the Twenty-Sixth Amendment intended: encourage youth political participation based on a cross-partisan recognition that young people serve an invaluable role in upholding our democracy.” - Yael Bromberg, Esq., constitutional rights attorney and Twenty-Sixth Amendment legal scholar.

“At The Andrew Goodman Foundation, we empower college student organizers across the country to mobilize their peers to the ballot box. We do this not only because we are carrying forward the principled spirits of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner — young voting rights workers who were murdered by the KKK in Mississippi on June 21, 1964 for registering Black Americans to vote — but also because we fervently believe in the proven power of young people to build an inclusive democracy. That is why we applaud Senator Warren and Representative Williams’s introduction of the Youth Voting Rights Act in support of the ongoing struggle to ensure that the purpose of the 26th Amendment is fulfilled,” says Charles Imohiosen, Esq., President and CEO of The Andrew Goodman Foundation.

“Even though the 26th Amendment was ratified over a half century ago, young people continue to have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any age group. We have to change that. We applaud Sen. Warren and Rep. Williams for leading the charge on this important bill to enforce the 26th Amendment and expand access for youth voters to participate in our democracy.” - Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund.

“NextGen America is excited to endorse the Youth Voting Rights Act, a bill that represents comprehensive legislation to enforce the 26th Amendment and expand youth access to voting. The largest, most diverse generation in American history needs to have their voices heard. We have seen time and time again that state legislatures will do anything to undermine young people’s right to vote, and that’s why this bill is so critical. In order to foster our democracy and create a future that truly represents the will of the people, it is essential that we fight back and create pathways for young people to join our political process and exercise their basic civil power to vote.” - Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, President, NextGen America.

Senator Warren is a national leader on efforts to defend our democracy and the sacred right to vote:

  • In June 2022, Senators Warren, Whitehouse, Hirono, Merkley (D-Ore.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Luján (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging him to expand voter registration access on HealthCare.gov.
  • In May 2022, Senators Warren and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) led nine of their colleagues in introducing the Sustaining Our Democracy Act. This legislation would provide $20 billion in mandatory federal funding over the next decade to help states and local governments support election administration, including by training and recruiting nonpartisan poll workers and election officials and increasing access to voting in underserved communities.
  • In January 2022, Senator Warren delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate calling on the Senate to end the filibuster and protect voting rights.
  • In October 2021, Senator Warren joined 48 of her Democratic colleagues to introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.