Campaigns & Elections

Report: NYC has dismal voter registration rates for 18-year-olds

When young people don’t have drivers licenses, they miss a key entry point to participate in elections, according to a nonprofit voter advocacy group.

Young voters are not getting as involved in New York City as they are in the rest of the state.

Young voters are not getting as involved in New York City as they are in the rest of the state. Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images

Voter registration among 18-year-olds in New York City dramatically trails the rest of the state according to a new report by The Civics Center, a nonprofit focused on making voter registration accessible to high schoolers. 

The average rate of registration for 18-year-olds in New York state is around 40%, which is actually ahead of the national average of 30% according to The Civics Center, but the average rate in New York City is below 25%.  

“The numbers for New York City are just extraordinarily low,” said Laura Brill, founder and CEO of The Civics Center.

The Civics Center has been pioneering the effort to break down data on 18-year-old voter registration by school district in ten states and counting. Their method consists of a cross analysis of voter files and American Community Survey age data by county. 

The school district with the highest rate of registration in New York is Saratoga at just under 69%, while the district with the lowest rate of registration is the Bronx at around 19%. New York has the largest discrepancies in voter registration between school districts out of the states The Civics Center has studied. 

The different levels of registration in New York are due to a variety of factors, but a key contributor unique to New York is the disparity between the number of young drivers in the city versus the rest of the state, according to The Civics Center. Many school districts in New York have a voter registration program tied to acquiring one’s driver’s license, which makes registering accessible and convenient. Most young people in the city do not drive and as such do not interact with these programs. Even outside of these programs, simply not having a driver’s license or some other form of ID provides barriers to registering online. 

Michigan far outpaces New York in 18-year-old voter registration at an average of just under 63%. In 2018, the state enacted automatic voter registration, and in 2024, the governor broadened those rights by signing a package of bills which allowed 16-year-olds to preregister to vote. New York also signed automatic voter registration into law in 2020, but has faced extreme implementation delays. 

Michigan is required by statute to send mailings to 16- and 17-year-olds about preregistration, which is not the case in New York despite it also having preregistration programs. There is also far greater mobilization in Michigan due to the state’s history of competitive national elections. The overwhelmingly blue nature of New York City and its consistent political record may discourage young people from registering if they think their vote won’t make a difference, but local elections provide ample opportunity to increase organization efforts. 

“Democracy is only going to work when people see themselves in the system and are able to participate and have a voice,” said Brill. “There are so many public policy issues that impact young people that we’re just not going to get right as a society if young people’s voices are shut out.”