color photograph of a Black young man in a dark blue shirt with white text that reads "VOTE" on it faces the camera. Two people with long black hair stand with their backs to the camera looking at the young man
Daniel Coley, a Georgia Democratic Party campus organizing director, encourages students to vote outside Georgia State University in Atlanta on Nov. 7, 2022. (Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP) (Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images)

As the country prepares for the 2024 election cycle, youth voting rights advocates say conservatives are pushing voter suppression efforts to stifle and silence college students across the country. Young voters have proven to be politically influential demographics, turning out in record numbers in recent elections, but voter suppression laws are discouraging young people from voting and creating obstacles to getting registered. 

​​Aylon Gipson, a rising senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta and a fellow with the Campus Vote Project, says seven out of 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Georgia are particularly disenfranchised. A state law in Georgia currently prevents private school students from using their student IDs to vote, even though public school student IDs are accepted. The laws surrounding student IDs as acceptable forms of identification for voting vary across the states

“That’s a huge barrier,” Gipson said. “[It makes private school students] jump through additional hoops in order to vote. That … creates confusion among voters who may not realize that their ID won’t be accepted at the polls or accepted as a form of identification, simply because they attend a private school.”

Mike Burns, the national director of Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, says another tactic to suppress the youth vote includes not having voting sites on college campuses. For many students who do not have a car or another form of transportation, reaching the voting site becomes a significant barrier to voting. In Georgia, Gipson said Archer Hall, a central facility on campus, is an essential resource for students. 

“Young people and students are generally the newest kind of participants in our democracy; they’re less likely to have a driver’s license even than previous generations at their age,” Burns said. “We’ve already started with a system that’s not well designed to meet them where they’re at as voters and welcome them into the process.”

The Campus Vote Project is a nonpartisan voting rights organization working to ensure fair and equal elections for students on college campuses; it works with college administrators, students, and election officials to reduce barriers to student voting in the face of suppression and institutionalize voting reforms for young people. 

According to exit poll data immediately available following the 2022 midterm elections, an estimated 27% of youth (ages 18-29) cast a ballot in 2022, making it the midterm election with the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades. According to the Edison Research National Election Pool exit poll, the national youth vote choice for the U.S. House of Representatives was 63% for Democrats, 35% for Republicans. Youth ages 18-29 are the only age group in which a strong majority supported Democrats, compared to a more even distribution in older age groups. 

“Protecting voting rights of students is not a partisan issue,” Gipson said. “That’s plain and simple. But I think … politicians pick and choose which voters have a say in our democracy, and it’s a threat to free and fair elections, which our government was founded upon, and that is the fundamental values of our democracy, to have free and fair elections.” 

According to reporting from The Washington Post, a top Republican legal strategist encouraged GOP donors to target the youth vote and limit voting on college campuses during the Republican National Committee donor retreat in Nashville, Tennessee, in April. 

Sarah Batson, the Student Advisory Board chair from the University of Texas, Austin, says for students to register to vote, they need to find a voter deputy registrar (VDR). A VDR is appointed by the county and legally entitled to procure voter registration forms. According to Batson, from a student’s perspective, that means finding a table that a voter organization has set up and registering there. Some states allow online registration, although additional requirements vary.

“When students are trying to do something for the first time that they know is important that they know they want to do, but there’s constantly one new barrier, one new speed bump, the mere existence of it is a tactic of suppression,” Batson said. 

The Texas state Senate recently passed legislation to end countywide voting centers, which previously allowed voters to cast ballots at any voting center in the county in which they’re registered. State Republicans have also introduced legislation to specifically prohibit campus polling places.

“They’re all just more barriers that suppress the vote,” Batson said. “I think that it’s crucial that young people and college students have access because it’s these first times voting that solidify that lifelong habit. If you have great experiences voting your first time out, you’re going to have positive associations, you’re going to feel inspired and motivated to go back to the polls every time. We want to create those habitual voters … so I think it’s really insidious to see suppression aimed at this population because the future of all voters in the country is young voters.”

Alexandra Martinez is the Senior News Reporter at Prism. She is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, Florida, with an interest in immigration, the economy, gender justice, and the environment. Her work...