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Young and determined: Early youth vote surges in 2020

Stunning early vote totals continue to resonate as we inch closer to Election Day. As of Oct. 23, more than 5 million 18- to 29-year-olds had already voted in the 2020 elections, based on data from Catalist. More than 3 million of those early votes were cast in 14 battleground states.

Of course, the pandemic gives a number of reasons to vote early or by mail, like less social contact. And many states have made mail-in voting easier.

But those factors alone cannot explain the surges we are seeing in at least two states, Texas and Georgia, where the early in-person voting line has been eight hours long at times. There is a huge increase in Colorado, where all registered voters have automatically received mail-in ballots for years. Nothing seems to stop younger voters' determination to choose the leaders they want this year. Youth have been predicted to make a significant impact on the outcome of the election in these swing states. Early vote figures seem to confirm that prediction.

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Former felons in Florida still fighting for voting rights

Opaque felony voter laws another young-voter hurdle

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed elections across the country, putting a new focus on the diverse, ever-changing and frequently opaque laws that govern how we go to the polls. It's a muddled landscape of rules about who can vote, where we vote and how we vote. Some of the most confusing laws are for individuals with felony convictions. In more than 30 states, they simply can't vote while still on parole. In others they can, but often only after fulfilling certain requirements. These rules are often unclear and not well-publicized, leading many, including many young people, to wonder whether they are eligible to vote.

After having a considerable difficulty sorting through these laws ourselves this summer, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement decided to learn what younger voters knew about felony voting laws. We found more than half of those aged 18-29 misunderstood convicted-felon laws. About one-third (37 percent) correctly identified whether people with past felony convictions could vote in their state and only 53 percent correctly said individuals who had committed misdemeanors could still vote — something which is true in all states.

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Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

To get young people to vote, try helping them

I'm often getting questions about why young people won't vote. Some don't think young people will turn out, even though they're obviously interested in politics. There are questions whether people under 24 do anything beyond protesting. There are strong assumptions behind these questions. I usually respond by asking whether those who doubt young people's interest in voting have actually offered to help.

Data shows we aren't doing the things that would launch people in their 20s into civic engagement and voting. Only 3 in 10 people under 30 were contacted by any campaign as of October 2016. Our recent analysis shows we don't actually even encourage every eligible student to become a voter while in high school, and half these students don't learn how to register. In short, we don't invest enough in growing voters.

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