In a mid-October campaign survey released Tuesday, at least 40% of young people of color report not being sure of important state voting laws.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Tufts University’s preeminent youth research organization, Tuesday released results of a nationally-representative youth poll on knowledge of state voting laws. The survey, commissioned by the Youth Education Fund (YEF), is unique in that it polled 1,695 youth (ages 18-29) in June/July and 1,109 of the same youth between October 12 and 23. Surveying the same people twice provides powerful evidence of change over time.

The poll finds that African-American youth were more likely to assume that there are strict rules in their states than youth of other backgrounds. Partly because of the differences in the assumptions about the laws, African-American youth were more likely to be incorrect (61.2%) about ID laws. Hispanic American youth were also likely to be incorrect about the photo ID law (59.3%) and white youth were least likely to be incorrect (39.8%). However, African-American youth were more likely to correctly identify early voting laws and early registration rules than white and Hispanic Americans youth.

“The comparisons between July and October’s polling shows that knowledge of state voting laws by voters 29 and under remains a serious problem heading into Election Day,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.  “Our complicated and rapidly changing electoral system is hard to navigate, especially for first-time voters, and they need more guidance and information.”

With just 7 days until the election, the youth poll shows the following results and analysis for knowledge of state voting law:

 *   The proportion of youth who report not knowing their state’s voting laws is decreasing, but large numbers still lack critical information. Over 40% of young people polled reported not being sure or not knowing their states’ registration deadlines, 43.3% said the same about early voting laws in their states, and 41.7% said they were unsure of their states’ voter ID laws (down only slightly from 44.2% in June/July).

 *   Of those youth who thought they knew the voting laws in their states, respondents were most likely to know the early voting requirements (84.1% correct) and least likely to know whether the registration deadline was 30 days or more before the election (22.5% correct). A little over half (53.5%) were able to correctly identify the photo ID requirements for voting in their state.

 *   80.7% had a current state-issued driver’s license and 39.9% had a current U.S. Passport. These were the two most common forms of photo ID.

 *   Non-college youth (40% of all eligible young voters) were 5 times more likely than youth with college experience not to have any photo ID, and were less likely to be correct about their states’ voting laws.

For one third of the youth eligible to vote in 2012, this is their first opportunity to vote in a Presidential election. Yet, changes in state voting and registration laws create additional steps, even though research has shown that turnout is higher when the system is accessible and easy to understand. Young people who are 18-24 were less likely to know their states’ current voter ID laws (49.6% correct if a response was chosen) when compared to those ages 25-29 (59.8%).


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