Rock the Vote or Block the Vote? How the Cost of Voting Affects the Voting Behavior of American Youth

Published date01 November 2020
Date01 November 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17PPCKWHwTg409/input 920265APRXXX10.1177/1532673X20920265American Politics ResearchJuelich and Coll
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(6) 719 –724
Rock the Vote or Block the Vote?
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
How the Cost of Voting Affects the
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X20920265
Voting Behavior of American Youth
Part of Special Symposium on Election Sciences
Courtney L. Juelich1 and Joseph A. Coll1
Young voters make up the largest portion of the electorate but vote at the lowest rates of any age group. While scholars
have studied how culture affects youth political participation, few studies have analyzed how institutional barriers affect
youth voting—even though these laws have been found to affect turnout of other disadvantaged groups. Considering
younger citizens are more likely to be non-habitual voters with less political knowledge, efficacy, and resources, it is possible
that these laws have magnified effects for youths. This could explain why new voters, facing new restrictions to voting, are
participating at lower percentages than youths of earlier cohorts. Using the 2004–2016 Current Population Survey (N =
360,000) and the Cost of Voting Index to test the effects of restrictive electoral environments on youth turnout, we find that
restrictive environments disproportionately hurt young voters by decreasing the probability they turn out by 16 percentage
points, compared with older voters.
youth voting, voting, electoral laws, electoral reforms, election laws, voting behavior
For more than 30 years, there has been considerable variation
compared with older individuals. Using data from the Current
in the electoral laws adopted by states. Some states have
Population Survey (CPS), the Cost of Voting Index (COVI;
passed laws that eased the cost of voting while others have
Li et al., 2018), and logistic modeling techniques, we find
increased voting barriers. For example, in 1998, Oregon
that stricter electoral environments hinder the turnout of
introduced all-mail ballots in which every eligible Oregonian
young voters twice as much as older individuals, all else held
received a ballot in the mail with prepaid return envelopes.
constant. This finding adds to a growing body of literature
These all-mail ballots reduced the cost of voting by eliminat-
that has uncovered the institutional and contextual effects
ing the travel time to the polls and any loss of wages from
that influence the attitudes and behaviors of young Americans
time off work (Southwell & Burchett, 2000). Other states,
(e.g., Hanmer, 2009; LaCombe & Juelich, 2019; Pacheco,
like South Dakota in 2003, began requiring voters show proof
2008; Plutzer, 2002).
of identity with a government issued identification card that
includes a photo. Doing so added barriers to voting that may
Differential Impacts of Electoral Laws
hinder turnout1 by requiring voters obtain a photo ID prior to
election day, pay for that ID, and bring it with them when they
on Disadvantaged Groups, Including
vote (Barreto et al., 2009). While individual electoral laws
the Youth
have been studied extensively, few scholars have studied the
Debate on whether aggregate voter turnout has declined
effect of these laws on young people (but see Hanmer, 2009;
continues (see McDonald & Popkin, 2001), but there is evi-
Wolfinger et al., 2005), and even less has been done to assess
dence that youth turnout differs from the overall population
the cumulative effect of these laws.
and has been decreasing across generations (Franklin,
With states growing more distinct in the restrictiveness of
2004). McDonald and Popkin (2001) show that over 4.8
voting laws, it is likely that these variations affect voter turn-
million 18- to 20-year-olds voted in 1972, but that it
out rates, especially the rates of young voters who are more
likely to be non-habitual voters and lack the necessary
resources to vote (Plutzer, 2002). To test the cumulative
1The University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA
effects of electoral laws on youth voter turnout, this article
Corresponding Author:
asks whether the overall restrictiveness of a state’s electoral
Joseph A. Coll, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1002, USA.
environment has a different effect on younger individuals

American Politics Research 48(6)
decreased to 3.8 million in 1984 and 3.2 million by 2000.
counterparts. Specifically, we hypothesize that increased
Putnam (2000) argues that the decline of attendance in civic
costs of voting will decrease youth voting more so than the
organizations among the youth is a primary factor causing
voting of older individuals.
them to vote less frequently, while other authors also outline
a cultural evolution as the catalyst behind changing partici-
Data and Methods
patory habits (Dalton, 2007; Lawless & Fox, 2015). While
culture may partially explain the trend of lower turnout
To test whether higher costs of voting are associated with
among young voters, these authors do not consider modern
lower individual youth turnout, we use voter turnout data
institutional barriers to voting.
from the 2004–2016 CPS (N = 368,439). The relative costs
Those who have examined these electoral barriers report
of voting in each state are assessed using Li et al.’s (2018)
a variety of results. Gronke (2004) finds that those who take
COVI.2 Our first variable of interest is the COVI, which gath-
advantage of early voting tend to be partisans and have
ers information on 33 state electoral laws, and uses factor
higher than average income and educational attainment.
analysis to create a unidimensional scale (range = [–2.721 to
Furthermore, Oregon’s move to an all-mail ballot was
1.302]) that quantifies how restrictive or...

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