Maine is justifiably proud of its high voter turnout rate — but statistics don’t tell the whole story. It’s true that the percentage of all eligible adults who cast a ballot is consistently higher in our state than it is elsewhere. But our youngest voters aren’t picking up the habit, and that’s something we can’t afford to ignore.

Each of us gets just one vote. Someone with a Ph.D. and a million-dollar house has no more say at the polls than someone who didn’t finish high school and shares an apartment with three other people. Those who don’t vote forgo their one and only opportunity to directly choose what initiatives will be put in place and what people will be implementing them.

A lot of factors influence whether someone votes. Making it easier for a voter to register has been shown to make it more likely that they’ll go to the polls. In states that allow voters to register or update their registration information on Election Day, researchers have found that average turnout over time is at least 10 percentage points higher than in states with advance deadlines.

Maine pioneered same-day registration, and in terms of voter participation, we consistently outpace other states. In 2014, our voter turnout rate was the highest in the country; in 2012, during the last presidential election, we came in sixth, and in 2008, we trailed only Minnesota and Wisconsin.

But too many Mainers who are newly eligible to vote aren’t doing so. In 2008, 2012 and 2014, anywhere from a quarter to a third of those age 18 to 29 weren’t even registered, putting them far behind other age groups. Those same years also saw similarly significant gaps between the 18- to 29-year-old voter turnout rate and the rate for people over 30.

Fortunately, this is an issue nationwide, too, and there’s been a lot of research on how to get young people to vote. Making sure they have reliable information on registration is key. The best way to get it to them? In-person, door-to-door contact with someone their own age. (The least effective way? Automated phone calls.) Allowing online registration has also been shown to boost youth turnout.

Whatever the outcome on Election Day, we can’t afford to sit back on Nov. 9 and think that there’s no more work to be done. If the youngest generation of citizens doesn’t get into the habit of voting now, our democracy will be deprived of their voices, and our policies will reflect their lack of participation.


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