Gen-Z Students May Hold the Key in Swing States

U.S. college and university students voting in swing states could yield a big return for Biden.

By Delilah Kutler; editing: Karen Wickre.

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

Gen Z (born 1996–2015) may hold the key to the White House, but not because they can learn a TikTok dance in under a minute. The advantage Gen Z voters hold this year is their ability to choose where to vote.

There are about 24 million eligible Gen Z voters, representing one in ten eligible voters this election cycle. A May 2020 Pew Research study described Gen Zers as “progressive and pro-government,” with a negative view of nationalism.

As of 2018, 57% of Gen Zers aged 18 to 21 were enrolled in a two- or four-year college. Those attending college somewhere other than their home state can choose where they want to register to vote: their hometown or where they attend school. According to recent research from College Voice and the Knight Foundation, students are politically engaged and highly motivated to vote, particularly in the upcoming election. Students enrolled in a swing state, where their votes will matter the most, may want to consider that option.

In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes. That number represents about half the total number of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — and that’s just one school. Only 48.8% of students at UW-Madison voted in 2016; the other 51.2% of eligible students could have changed the 2016 outcome in Wisconsin. One could make this argument about many schools in swing states — but this year, it has never been more clear that every voter matters.

If university students register and turn up at the polls at the rate Boomers typically do in a state like Florida, where college students make up just over 4% of the population, we may be looking at a dramatic change in the state’s political landscape. Considering that Gen Zers tend to be much more progressive than older generations, college students have the ability to tip Florida for Biden.

To vote in the state in which a student goes to college, they must have a permanent address in that state. Note that in all of the states listed here, a permanent address (even if limited to the school year) can be a dorm or off-campus housing where the student is named on the lease or receives mail. Aside from the residential address, each state has its own rules for registering to vote and/or requesting an absentee ballot.

Here’s our list of swing states for the 2020 presidential election with details and deadlines for registering in that state as provided by Vote.org:

Colorado

  • In Person: Election Day (November 3)
  • By Mail: Received 8 days before Election Day (October 26)
  • Online: 8 days before Election Day (October 26)

Florida

  • Voter registration for the 2020 election ended October 6

Iowa

  • In Person: By 5:00 p.m. 10 days before Election Day (October 24). If you miss the deadline, you can also register to vote in-person during early vote or on Election Day (November 3)
  • By Mail: Postmarked 15 days before Election Day (October 19 or earlier), or received by 5:00 p.m. 10 days before Election Day (October 24)
  • Online: 10 days before Election Day (October 24)

Michigan

  • In Person: If you deliver your application to your city or township clerk’s office, 8:00 p.m. on Election Day at your city or township clerk office. If you submit an application through a voter registration drive or deliver your application to a county clerk’s or Secretary of State’s office, 15 days before Election Day (October 19)
  • By Mail: Postmarked 15 days before Election Day (October 19 or earlier)
  • Online: 15 days before Election Day (October 19)

Minnesota*

  • In Person: If you plan to register at your polling place, Election Day (November 3). If you plan to register by delivering your application to your county auditor or to the Secretary of State’s office, by 5:00 p.m. on October 13
  • By Mail: Received 5:00 p.m. 21 days before Election Day (October 13)
  • Online: Submitted by 11:59 p.m. 21 days before Election Day (October 13)

Nevada**

  • In Person: If you plan to register at an early voting location or your polling place, Election Day (November 3). If you plan to register by delivering your application to your County or City Clerk’s Office, 28 days before Election Day (October 6)
  • By Mail: Voter registration for the 2020 election ended October 6
  • Online: Thursday before Election Day (October 29)

New Hampshire*

  • In Person: You can register in-person on Election Day (November 3). For further detail, check out New Hampshire’s memorandum on accommodations.
  • By Mail: Mailed registration applications must be received before the last meeting of your town or city’s Supervisors of the Checklist, which must occur between 6 and 13 days before Election Day (between October 21 and October 28). Check your town/city website, or call your clerk’s office for the date and time of the Supervisors’ meeting.
  • Online: N/A

North Carolina

  • In Person: The Saturday before Election Day if voting early in person (October 31), otherwise 25 days before Election Day (October 9)
  • By Mail: Postmarked 25 days before Election Day (October 9). If the postmark is missing or unclear, the application will still be processed if it is received 20 days before Election Day (October 14)
  • Online: 25 days before Election Day (October 9)

Ohio

  • Voter registration for the 2020 election ended October 5.

Pennsylvania

  • In Person: 15 days before Election Day (October 19)
  • By Mail: Received 15 days before Election Day (October 19)
  • Online: 15 days before Election Day (October 19)

Virginia

  • In Person: 22 days before Election Day (October 12)
  • By Mail: Postmarked 22 days before Election Day (October 12)
  • Online: 22 days before Election Day (October 12)

Wisconsin ***

  • In Person: 5:00 p.m. the Friday before Election Day (October 30)
  • By Mail: For the 2020 general election, postmarked 13 days before Election Day (October 21)
  • Online: For the 2020 general election, 13 days before Election Day (October 21)

*New Hampshire and Minnesota have the highest percentage of students to overall state population.

**Nevada’s deadline for voter registration outside of same-day registration at early voting locations and polling places on Election Day has passed.

***Registration dates may change pursuant to ongoing litigation.

All together, these states are home to 1,257 two- and four-year higher education institutions — and many thousands of votes college students could potentially cast.

Given this extremely partisan era, in which fewer and fewer voters can be persuaded to vote for the alternative candidate, Gen Z holds a key that just might unlock turnout. Encouraging Gen Z voters — a group with one of the lowest turnout rates and also the highest education rates — to vote represents one of the largest potential upsides for Democrats. If you’re an eligible student who plans to vote, make your plan for how and when you are voting. And if you know an eligible student voter, check in to make sure they know how they are getting to the polls or will request their mail-in ballot.

To check your registration status, visit IWillVote.com.

Sources: All In Challenge, ASU Magazine, College Pulse/Knight Foundation, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, Pew Social Trends, Statista, Vote.org.

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