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Yes, Your Teen Does Need to Register to Vote Today — Here’s How to Help

On National Voter Registration Day, September 22 this year, you might be seeing a lot of messaging around making sure your voter registration is up-to-date. But if you’ve got an 18-year-old in your life, you have some more homework on your hands this election season. In the even that your kid isn’t already one of those politically active Gen Z types, this task could be difficult. We’d like to give you a little help with that.

If your teenager is reluctant or apathetic about the upcoming election, you’re not alone. The United States has one of the lowest rates of youth voter turnout in the world, and only about 43 percent of voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2016 presidential election (compared to 71 percent for ages 60 and older). That was down from the historic highs (48 percent) of youth voter turnout to elect President Barack Obama back in 2008. But the good news is that young people are starting to feel fired up and ready to go, as Obama used to say: 18-to-29-year-olds’ participation in midterm elections went up from 20 percent to 36 percent from 2014-2018.

“In interviews with dozens of young people, we found that many of them lacked confidence in themselves and their ability to navigate the voting process for the first time,” John Holbein, assistant professor of public policy and education at the University of Virginia, wrote in the Conversation earlier this year. “Many told us that in their busy, hectic, and ever-changing schedules, voting often simply falls by the wayside. Simply put, many young people want to participate, care about what happens in the political arena, and plan to participate. But they find doing so too big of a hassle to actually follow through on their good intentions.”

Holbein suggests that the easiest way to fix this problem is to make voter registration easier, which is happening in some states that have same-day voter registration. At the moment, however, we’ve got to get these kids participating ASAP, before those laws can change.

Find an issue that motivates them

The youth-led gun-sense group Students Demand Action (an offshoot of Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action)  has been holding virtual voter registration drives all year, and on National Voter Registration Day, the group has the ambitious goal of registering 100,000 new voters.

Students Demand Action volunteer Alanna Miller, a second-year student at Duke University, gave us a few tips of how she gets other young people to register:

“When registering other young voters, I remind them that our generation has grown up in the midst of our country’s gun-violence crisis,” she told SheKnows via email. “And of course, now, the recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jacob Blake and so many others have added even more urgency to conversations around police violence as part of gun violence, and their disproportionate impact on Black people in America. Young people are eager to elect leaders who will do something about gun violence and police violence, and we know that 2020 will be a pivotal election in helping us to change course on these long-standing issues.”

The key to her approach is explaining that the youth vote can really make a difference if they turn out.

“Young voters who are motivated to end gun violence in America should know that there is room for change — less than half of eligible voters aged 18-29 actually voted,” she said. “Gun violence prevention consistently ranks as a top issue for young voters, so we know if young voters get registered, and turn out to vote, we can be a huge force in deciding the outcome of the 2020 election.”

Find out what issues are really important to your teen, and then do the research together on what elected officials have said about it. They may have taken in rhetoric about politicians not caring and everyone being “the same,” but it’s up to you to talk about how that’s not the case. Look at local politics and laws that have been passed that directly impact your lives and discuss how your city, state, and U.S. representatives have acted — or haven’t — in your interest. Then look at a ballot and see how the people running this year might change that, or might be inclined to listen once they’re in office.

Physically help them register

As Holbein wrote, many people feel like registering to vote is a huge headache, and it really doesn’t have to be. Head over to RocktheVote.org or Vote.org for multiple ways to register. Help them gather the information they’ll need for your state — their social security number, or driver’s license or ID number. You may be able to do everything online, but if something needs to be printed and mailed, you should have that prepared too. Anything you can do to smooth the way for them is great — this is one time when no one will mind you helping a teen with their homework, just so long as they choose their own party affiliation (if they want to) and sign their names themselves.

Resort to bribery

We are not suggesting that you pay your kids to vote your way, but maybe entice them to register with the promise of a gift? Start with the sweet Vote merch available on Etsy,  and the jewelry on UncommonGoods.

Do it on time

Here are the voter registration deadlines in each state:

Alabama: Oct. 19.
Alaska: Oct. 4.
Arizona: Oct. 5.
Arkansas: Oct. 5. (No online voter registration.)
California: Oct. 19 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day (Nov. 3).
Colorado: Oct. 26 for online. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Connecticut: Oct. 27 for online. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Delaware: Oct. 10. (No online voter registration.)
District of Columbia: Oct. 13 for online, and mail-in must be received by then. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Florida: Oct. 5.
Georgia: Oct. 5.
Hawaii: Oct. 5.
Idaho: Oct. 9 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Illinois: Oct. 6 for mail. Oct. 17 for online. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Indiana: Oct. 5.
Iowa: Oct. 24 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Kansas: Oct. 13.
Kentucky: Oct. 5.
Louisiana: Oct. 5 for mail and in-person. Oct. 14 for online.
Maine: Oct. 13 for mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day. No online registration.
Maryland: Oct. 13.
Massachusetts: Oct. 24.
Michigan: Oct. 19 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Minnesota: Oct. 13 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Mississippi: Oct. 5. (No online.)
Missouri: Oct. 7.
Montana: Oct. 5 for mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day. (No online.)
Nebraska: Oct. 16 for mail or online. Oct. 23 for in-person registration.
Nevada: Oct. 6 for in-person or mail. Oct. 29 for online.
New Hampshire: Oct. 21 for mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day. (No online.)
New Jersey: Oct. 13 for mail and in-person. (No online.)
New Mexico: Oct. 6 for mail or online. Oct. 31 for in-person.
New York: Oct. 9.
North Carolina: Oct. 9 for mail, in-person, or online. Same-day registration available Oct. 15-31.
North Dakota: Voter registration is automatic for residents.
Ohio: Oct. 5.
Oklahoma: Oct. 9 for mail or in-person. (No online.)
Oregon: Oct. 13.
Pennsylvania: Oct. 19.
Rhode Island: Oct. 4. In-person registration available on Election Day for presidential election.
South Carolina: Oct. 2 for in-person. Oct. 4 for online. Oct. 5 for mail.
South Dakota: Oct. 19 for in-person and for mail to be received. (No online.)
Tennessee: Oct. 5.
Texas: Oct. 5. (No online.)
Utah: Oct. 23 for mail (receive-by date) and online. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Vermont: Election Day, but encouraged by Oct. 30.
Virginia: Oct. 13.
Washington: Oct. 26 for online and mail (received-by date). In-person registration before and including Election Day.
West Virginia: Oct. 13.
Wisconsin: Oct. 14 for online and mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day.
Wyoming: Oct. 19 for mail. In-person registration before and including Election Day. (No online.)

Prepare the next round of voters

Parenting expert and psychologist Reena B. Patel has a few tips for how to raise voters from a very young age. First, you need to be a role model by voting yourself and talking about who you’re voting for and why. Then talk about politics on a large and small scale.

“Talk with your child about how you handle disagreements in your home,” she said. “Politics can get heated, and it is important to let your child know that at the end of the day we come together for a bigger cause.”

And if the adults in our government can’t also figure out that particular lesson, we can vote them out!

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