Day after day, from college campuses to high school classrooms, we hear stories about needless bureaucratic barriers that prevent young people from voting. For young Americans, the greatest barrier to participation is the outdated process itself. Our complicated registration process varies state-by-state, and our country's antiquated, paper-based electoral system is riddled with restrictive rules and red tape that don't reflect advances in technology or meet the needs of modern life.
You'd think that the most basic element of our democracy -- the very right to participate in our government that is guaranteed to all of us -- would be something we would constantly work to improve. Yet somehow registering and voting is an archaic ordeal, inconsistently implemented from place to place, and disturbingly, manipulated by whether people in power want someone like you to show up at the polls.
It doesn't need to be this hard to vote.
The Millennial generation is the largest and most diverse in our country, and it is the most mobile, interconnected and technologically savvy generation in history. Young people use social media and technology to solve problems, but they're still supposed to sign and snail mail registration forms at the Post Office every time they move? This generation volunteers at record rates, but is supposed to accept that millions of their peers aren't taught about civics and elections in school? And does anyone really think that this generation won't notice if we keep trying to move backward, not forward, by adding roadblocks and eliminating positive reforms? Some states are actually ending Same Day Registration and others are threatening young people who volunteer to register their friends with steep fines.
Well, Rock the Vote could not sit on the sidelines and watch quietly as young people are ostracized from the political process. So it started closely monitoring which states want young people to vote, and which ones are trying to make it harder. It analyzed all 50 states for voting policies that have proven effective in bolstering access for young people. It used this information to create its Voting System Scorecard, which ranks the best and worst states in terms of how equipped they are to serve the rising electorate.
The results are disheartening. The average score of all the states was just 41 percent, with only 15 states scoring above 50 percent. (To read the whole report and find out where your state ranks, go here.)
Put simply, our system is failing to expand access for young Americans, and our country cannot afford an outdated democracy.
At a time when candidates from both parties are kicking off their 2012 campaigns with promises to target young people, we wonder how exactly they plan to do that when our election system is stalled or actively taking us backwards in dozens of states.
Rock the Vote is calling on young people around the country to stand up and demand a voting system that can sustain this generation into the future.
While it may be convenient (or politically helpful) for some to attempt to disenfranchise young voters, we know this generation understands what's at stake. Our democracy guarantees all of us the right to vote. And that is something we will continue to fight for.
Follow Heather Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rtvhs