Report: Democracy For The People

Millenial Online Voter Registration

Released by: CALPIRG Education Fund

Since the launch of online voter registration (OVR) in 2012, best practices have emerged that maximize the impact of online voter registration for getting youth from college campuses across the state onto the voter rolls.  Youth voter engagement has been identified as a problem of emerging concern by public and community leaders.  Only 8% of eligible youth participated in the historically low voter turnout elections of 2014.  In the same year, data shows that only 0.3% of the total students served by public colleges and universities in California are registered through online voter registration opportunities they are provided.  

This report examines the challenges and opportunities that exist in California to engage the more than 3 million students who attend colleges and universities.  Based on our review of current practices and an analysis of scientifically researched and proven effective tactics, we provide recommendations to college and university administrators, state leaders, and nonprofit organizations working to encourage the adoption and dissemination of online voter registration opportunities that bring youth into the democratic process.  


1. Integrated Online Voter Registration Opportunities.  Colleges and universities should provide a more meaningful opportunity for students to complete a voter registration form upon class registration, as required by the Student Voter Registration Act .  Given the transient nature of the student population, additional voter registration opportunities should be made available at move-in day, whenever a student updates their address and/or contact information with the administration, or upon graduation from the school.  

2. Campus Policy Should Actively Encourage In-Person Outreach to their Student Body.  Online outreach alone is not enough to engage new potential voters. Deeper engagement of millennials is required in order to maximize their awareness and participation in elections, especially in low-profile elections.  Campus policies should encourage voter registration outreach to the student body and invest campus resources into those efforts. There are two areas that can be directly addressed: policy and outreach.  


Colleges and universities should adopt the following policies for student organizations seeking to offer direct, nonpartisan, peer-to-peer voter registration opportunities, civic engagement opportunities, and get out the vote efforts:

i. Allow access to on-campus housing 

ii. Allow full access at move-in days, when students first arrive to their on-campus housing

iii. Allow full access to high traffic locations. This means allowing student organizations to set up tables and/or clipboarding events to actively reach out to the student body.  


Light touches to potential voters, like emails and website links, have far less of an impact during low-information and low-excitement election cycles than they do in high-information, high-excitement election cycles.  By contrast, direct peer-to-peer engagement continues to be one of the most effective tactics to increase youth voter engagement – even in low excitement elections.  Campus administrations and student groups should play strong roles in raising the awareness, visibility, and opportunities that students have for electoral engagement.  The goal should be to achieve a “saturation” of awareness of the upcoming election, utilizing such tactics as: 

Online: Website links, voter registration reminder ads, voter registration during class registration, all campus emails, social media messages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others)

Offline: Peer-to-peer direct voter engagement, chalking, flyering in high traffic locations across campus and in residence halls, hanging banners, voter registration table tent reminders in dining halls

3. Institutionalized Voter Engagement.  Colleges and universities should integrate meaningful voter registration opportunities into their offices of civic engagement, service learning, and/or student affairs. There is growing recognition that in order to maximize engagement by the electorate writ large, and students in particular, you need to have both policy and an active engagement efforts (an intervention) to maximize results. Higher education institutions are becoming increasingly aware of, and responsive to, the important role they can play in civic engagement.  In this context, colleges and universities should integrate their voter engagement efforts into their existing program by offering voter registration, voter education resources, and get out the vote reminders.  Much of this could be accomplished working with external partners and adopting the previous recommendations in this report.  

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