Congresswoman Nikema Williams and Senator Elizabeth Warren to Introduce Bill to Expand Youth Access to Voting

WASHINGTON Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) announced she will introduce the Youth Voting Rights Act, comprehensive legislation to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and expand youth access to voting. This legislation is co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.-Del.), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), John Sarbanes (MD-03), and Deborah Ross (NC-02). Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is leading introduction of companion legislation in the Senate. 

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, formally ratified on July 1, 1971, prohibits the denial of the right to vote on account of age for all citizens aged 18 or older. But over fifty years after its ratification, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s promise remains unfulfilled. Young voters participate in elections at lower rates than voters in older age cohorts. Their provisional ballots and mail-in ballots are rejected at disproportionate rates. And they routinely face serious obstacles to voter registration and in-person voting.

Congresswoman Williams said:

“Our democracy is stronger when our youth are heard at the ballot box. Unfortunately, young citizens still face disproportionate barriers to voting. We must do more to strengthen democratic access across generations. I am proud to join with Senator Elizabeth Warren to introduce the Youth Voting Rights Act so we can end age-based barriers to voting. Everyone deserves free and fair access to the ballot box–no matter your age, no matter your ZIP Code,”

Senator Warren said:

“Voting is the beating heart of our democracy. Young people are the future of America, and with voting rights under attack across the country, we must do everything we can to ensure they can exercise their right to vote. My new bicameral bill with Congresswoman Nikema Williams will ensure young people aren’t left out of the voting process, and I’m thrilled to partner with her and my colleagues on this effort.”

Voting is a fundamental right in any democracy, as bipartisan supermajorities in Congress and the states nearly unanimously recognized when the United States adopted the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in the fastest ratification process in American history. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Empower individuals and the government to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. The bill creates a private right of action to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and establishes a national standard of review for such lawsuits.
  • Expand voter registration services at public colleges and universities. The bill designates offices at all public institutions of higher education as “voter registration agencies” under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, imposing voter registration obligations on these institutions.
  • Allow young people in every state to pre-register to vote before turning 18. To ensure that young people can vote as soon as they turn 18, the bill requires states to establish pre-registration processes for 16- and 17-year-olds and allows states to expand their processes to youth younger than 16.
  • Require institutions of higher education to have on-campus polling places. The bill ensures the availability of polling places on campuses of institutions of higher education, removing one of the most significant barriers to youth voting access.
  • Prohibit durational residency requirements for all federal elections. The bill extends the Voting Rights Act’s protections against durational residency requirements and absentee voting limitations to all federal elections, not only elections for President and Vice President, and codifies the right to vote from a college domicile.
  • Guarantee that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements. The bill mandates the acceptance of student IDs to meet state voter-identification requirements in federal elections.
  • Create a grant program dedicated to youth involvement in elections. The bill creates a grant program for states to encourage youth involvement in elections, including through pre-registration, updated civics curricula, and a paid fellowship for young persons to work with state and local officials to support youth civic and political engagement.
  • Gather data on youth voter registration and election participation. The bill requires the federal government to study voter registration, absentee voting, and provisional voting trends by age and race to inform efforts to improve youth involvement in elections.

The bill is endorsed by a wide range of democracy and youth organizations including: American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Campaign Legal Center, Demos, League of Women Voters of the United States, End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund, MoveOn, NextGen America, The Andrew Goodman Foundation, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, When We All Vote, the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, Students Learn Students Vote, The Civics Center, and Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy in Higher Education. 

Bobby Hoffman, Deputy Director of the ACLU Democracy Division said:

“The ACLU is proud to support the Youth Voting Rights Act. Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy and it must never be infringed. Young people face serious obstacles when registering to vote and casting a ballot. We must do all we can to ensure young people have unrestricted access to the ballot box, especially given the upcoming federal elections.”

Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause said:

“Democracy is how we work together to solve the pressing issues of our times. When democracy works best, it also secures the future, and the future belongs to young people. Common Cause and our more than 1.5 million supporters and members commend Congresswoman Williams and Senator Warren for introducing the Youth Voting Rights Act, important legislation that enhances opportunity and participation for young people. Common Cause is proud of our history helping to advance the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18. There is more work to do so that it lives up to its promise of a more empowered, reflective, and representative democracy. The Youth Voting Rights Act is another important step forward in the march toward inclusivity

Jessica Jones Capparell, Director of Government Affairs, League of Women Voters of the United States said:

“Our democracy is strongest when every voice is heard, including those of our young voters. The League of Women Voters of the United States strongly supports this legislation to make voting more accessible for young voters by breaking down obstacles they continue to face when registering to vote or casting a ballot. We must equip young voters with the necessary resources to fully participate in the democratic process if we want to create strong and engaged citizens.” 

Charles Imohiosen, Esq., President and CEO of The Andrew Goodman Foundation said:

“At The Andrew Goodman Foundation, we empower college student organizers across the country to mobilize their peers to the ballot box. We do this not only because we are carrying forward the principled spirits of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner — young voting rights workers who were murdered by the KKK in Mississippi on June 21, 1964 for registering Black Americans to vote — but also because we fervently believe in the proven power of young people to build an inclusive democracy. That is why we applaud Congresswoman Williams and Senator Warren’sintroduction of the Youth Voting Rights Actin support of the ongoing struggle to ensure that the purpose of the 26th Amendment is fulfilled,”

Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund said:

“Even though the 26th Amendment was ratified over a half century ago, young people continue to have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any age group. We have to change that. We applaud Congresswoman Williams and Senator Warren for leading the charge on this important bill to enforce the 26th Amendment and expand access for youth voters to participate in our democracy.”

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, President, NextGen America said:

“NextGen America is excited to endorse the Youth Voting Rights Act, a bill that represents comprehensive legislation to enforce the 26th Amendment and expand youth access to voting. The largest, most diverse generation in American history needs to have their voices heard. We have seen time and time again that state legislatures will do anything to undermine young people’s right to vote, and that’s why this bill is so critical. In order to foster our democracy and create a future that truly represents the will of the people, it is essential that we fight back and create pathways for young people to join our political process and exercise their basic civil power to vote.”

CONTACT: PressGA05@mail.house.gov

Congresswoman Nikema Williams proudly serves Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. Congresswoman Williams serves on the exclusive Financial Services Committee where she is Vice Chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress. She is Freshman Class President and Co-Chairs the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Congresswoman Williams builds on the Fifth District’s legacy as the cradle of the civil rights movement as a champion of voting rights, closing the racial wealth gap, and ensuring the promise of America for all–regardless of their ZIP code or bank account.

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