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Who Wants 16-Year-Olds To Vote? We Asked Every 2020 Presidential Candidate About Voter Access

Plus their stances on everything from the Voting Rights Act to making Election Day a national holiday

By De Elizabeth

Welcome to Got Issues?, MTV News’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of your biggest concerns and questions about the 2020 race.

It’s official: Election Day 2020 is less than one year away. Next November, voters across the country will line up to cast their ballot for the next president of the United States, potentially setting into motion a new era of government. But along with the excitement and possibility of change comes a grave reality: The process of voting is often difficult for many Americans eager to make their voices heard.

Various policies and issues — ranging from strict voter ID laws to gerrymandering to miscellaneous challenges at the polling sites — have made the fight for voter access an uphill battle, especially for people of color; incarcerated people and those with felony convictions; people living in marginalized, often hard-to-reach communities; and college students. Some voter ID laws don’t allow student IDs as a form of proper identification, while others have strict guidelines as to what constitutes an “eligible” form of ID. People without cars might have trouble getting to a polling location or find it difficult to take time off of school or work to vote, and gerrymandering can make it inordinately confusing for voters to know where they need to go in order to cast their ballots — a problem that’s amplified for transient students who live on college campuses.

Plenty of people and organizations are blazing a trail towards a stronger democracy, one in which voting rights are protected every step of the way. The ACLU’s Voting Rights Project works tirelessly to litigate voting rights cases, as well as push back against efforts to limit access to the polls for marginalized communities. Groups like the Campus Vote Project and Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) are empowering college campuses to inform students about voter registration and other important information, and individual students all around the country are taking matters into their own hands in order to help their peers participate in both local and national elections — but they can’t do the work alone.

Voter access has become a key issue for progressive politicians, and many 2020 candidates have been outspoken about the importance of strengthening voting rights for everyone. There are tangible things that elected officials can and should do in order to make voting more accessible to the average American, ranging from bolstering the Voting Rights Act to prioritizing early voting to simply giving people more time to vote on Election Day itself. But when it comes down to specific strategies, every presidential hopeful has a different take.

MTV News reached out to every major presidential candidate with the same question: If elected, what would you do to strengthen and protect voter access? Some offered statements, while others made time for interviews — and of course, we dug into everyone’s backgrounds and voting records to fill in the blanks. The general consensus is that something needs to change, but how we intend to achieve it differs from candidate to candidate. Ahead, learn more about what each presidential candidate would do to strengthen our democracy and protect the right to vote.

Michael Bennet

Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

The Colorado Senator’s  “plan to fix our broken politics” puts an emphasis on students and young people by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. He also suggests that states should be required to allow students to vote wherever they attend school in order to create a simpler process for young people.

“We should not only be the world’s oldest democracy, but the strongest,” Bennet said in a statement to MTV News. “Unfortunately, the fundamental right to vote has come under assault in recent years from a wave of voter suppression unseen since the era of Jim Crow. There is not equal access to voting in the U.S. today.”

Joe Biden

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Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes, but the details are unclear.

Biden’s published platform for government reform stresses the importance of legislation that protects voting rights, as well as reducing the amount of corporate money in our elections. (Biden himself has accepted more than $30,000 in donations from corporate interests through a PAC he created, the Intercept reported.) In previous interviews, the former vice president expressed support for expanding voting rights of those who were previously incarcerated, and criticized apparent efforts by Republicans to make voting more challenging for marginalized communities. During a May 2019 campaign rally in South Carolina, Biden warned the crowd that the country was headed for a major regression with regard to voting rights. “Folks, last year, 24 states introduced or enacted at least 70 bills to curtail the right the vote,” Biden said, per BuzzFeed News.

In 2014, Biden spoke out against restrictive voter ID laws, telling reporters: “Hatred never, never goes away. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”

Cory Booker

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Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

Senator Booker’s (D-NJ) platform on voting rights includes a variety of actionable items such as putting a stop to gerrymandering, ensuring “universal automatic voter registration,” and ensuring that all voters are able to cast a ballot in a language they understand. If elected president, he would also aim to create new legislation to further protect the right to vote.

“The right to vote has been under assault for millions of Americans — disproportionately for young people and in communities of color,” Booker wrote on his website. “It is time for sweeping reforms to get big money out of politics and put an end to systematic attempts to limit access to the ballot box and strip citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.”

Steve Bullock 

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yep!

Per his website, Governor Bullock’s platform includes requiring all states to provide periods of early voting (both in-person and absentee), permitting same-day registration, and ensuring that Indigenous peoples can use tribal IDs as a form of voter identification.

“Americans are meant to be equal at the ballot box,” Bullock told MTV News in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to help people fully participate in our democracy — that includes making Election Day a national holiday and implementing automatic voter registration and pre-registration to make it easier for everyone to vote.”

Pete Buttigieg 

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Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

“We cannot call ourselves a democracy when people of color, students, and other communities find their votes systematically suppressed by officials from a Republican Party that’s figured out that if everybody votes, it won’t win,” the South Bend Mayor told MTV News in a statement, adding that it’s essential for the next president to expand voting rights to give everyone a voice.

Buttigieg has previously stressed the importance of HR1, a.k.a. the For the People Act of 2019, a bill that addresses voter access and election integrity. “As president, I will push to enact nationwide automatic voter registration, make Election Day a holiday, and pass a new Voting Rights Act to end racially motivated voter suppression and student disenfranchisement,” Buttigieg said in his statement. “In taking these steps, we'll also drive higher turnout by reassuring people that their votes really do count. I'm under no illusion that it will be easy to change these things, but I refuse to accept an America that does not honor the right to vote.”

Julián Castro

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Does he have an official plan to strengthen voter access? Yes!

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development says his passion for strengthening voter rights is personal. “In 1971, my mom, a 24-year-old Chicana activist, ran for city council with a message to ‘bring government back to the people,’” he told MTV News in a statement. “She confronted a system that suppressed the vote, and lost.” Years later, the then-mayor of San Antonio, Texas, hung his mother’s campaign poster in his office as a reminder of the progress we’ve made — as well as everything we’ve yet to accomplish. “Cynical efforts like voter ID [restrictions] and gerrymandering are meant to divide us and exclude underserved communities,” Castro explained.

With a voting reform platform that includes abolishing the electoral college, supporting self-determination for Puerto Rico, and combating corporate money within politics, Castro says he aims to fight for a democracy that he believes truly represents all Americans. “Together, we’ll return power to the people,” he said.

John Delaney

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yup!

During his tenure in Congress in 2017, then-Rep. Delaney (D-MD) introduced the Open Our Democracy Act, which aimed to combat gerrymandering by requiring independent commissions to draw district lines in each state. The bill, which was not brought to a vote by the House, also sought to make Election Day a federal holiday.

If elected president, Delaney said he plans to continue the work he did in Congress and pass similar legislation. “We see an assault on voting rights in this country,” he told MTV News in a phone interview. “I’d like to begin a movement to generally make access to the ballot easier…. If all the American people’s voices were actually represented in our electoral politics, then we’d have a much more functioning government.”

Tulsi Gabbard

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Does she have an official plan to strengthen voter access? Yes!

Earlier this year, Rep. Gabbard (D-HI) re-introduced the Securing America’s Elections Act, a bill that aims to address weaknesses within election infrastructure. “This is the huge vulnerability that threatens our next election, that so far, unfortunately, has not been addressed,” Gabbard wrote on her website. “The fact that there are still many states in this country who don’t have paper ballots or any kind of auditable paper trail; to make sure that whether it’s another country, or an individual rogue actor, that comes in and tries to manipulate our votes, tries to change our votes to change the outcome of this election; our system is vulnerable to those hacks and attacks today.” In addition to tackling election security, her official 2020 platform includes support for the For the People Act and other legislation to strengthen voting rights.

Kamala Harris

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Does she have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

In May 2019, Sen. Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (R-OH) teamed up with several of their colleagues to introduce the Protecting American Votes and Elections act, a bill that aims to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference. If elected president, Harris also wants to take steps to secure our elections at home.

“Our democracy was built on the notion that every American has an equal voice, but that’s not the democracy we have today,” Harris told MTV News in a statement, noting that millions of Americans, especially students and people of color, are being denied their right to vote by laws intentionally designed to disenfranchise them. “I will restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, require the availability of early voting, fight for automatic voter registration, and make Election Day a national holiday,” the senator added. “I’ve always stood for the people, and that’s the kind of government I will fight for when in the White House.”

Amy Klobuchar 

Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for MoveOn

Does she have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

In November 2017, Sen. Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Register America to Vote Act, a bill that would require all states to automatically register eligible U.S. citizens to vote upon their 18th birthday. Automatic voter registration has already been implemented in some states, with data showing that the practice results in a higher election turnout. “All of the important policies Democrats talk about getting done — combating climate change, tackling gun violence, expanding access to health care — depend on one thing: a democracy that works,” Klobuchar told Politico, adding: “Passing my bill to automatically register voters in every state would result in 22 million new voters in just the first year of implementation.”

If elected president, Klobuchar’s first step would be to send the For the People Act to Congress. “The right to vote has been hard-fought and hard-won,” the senator’s platform reads. “Right now, insidious forces are working to take that right away…. It’s time to take back our democracy.”

Wayne Messam

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Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Maybe? The details are unclear.

The Miramar mayor’s campaign website references Florida’s Amendment 4, which was passed in 2018 to restore voting rights to previously incarcerated people. “Now the state legislature is trying to undermine the will of Florida voters and institute a poll tax, sending a chilling signal that threatens American values at home and abroad,” Messam’s website notes.

The candidate is in support of protecting the right to vote, regardless of economic or social status, and his platform acknowledges that “voting rights are under attack as politicians create barriers that make it harder for people to register to vote and cast their ballots, cut back early voting, and engage in unconstitutional acts of voter suppression.” However, his published plan does not indicate the specific ways he would aim to increase voter access, and it is unclear as to what legislation he would try to pass if elected president.

Bernie Sanders

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Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Yup!

Sen. Sanders’s (D-VT) plan includes eliminating gerrymandering, abolishing “burdensome” voter ID laws; and re-enfranchising formerly incarcerated people with prior felonies. Earlier this year, the Vermont senator made headlines for suggesting voting rights be extended to every person who is currently incarcerated, which later sparked a debate among his fellow presidential candidates, several of whom don’t fully agree. Sanders defended his position in an April 2019 op-ed for USA Today, writing: “If we are serious about calling ourselves a democracy, we must firmly establish that the right to vote is an inalienable and universal principle that applies to all American citizens 18 years and older. Period.” Currently, Vermont is only one of two states that allows incarcerated people to vote; Maine is the other.

Tom Steyer

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Yes!

Steyer said he wants to simplify the entire process by allowing people to vote from home, increasing the amount of convenient polling locations, and making Election Day a federal holiday or moving it to a Saturday. “There's a ton of things that can be [done], but are not,” Steyer told MTV News in a phone interview. “This has been a campaign that has been going on for a long time, and it's organized and it's not a fluke. This has been an attempt by the Republican Party to prevent American citizens from voting to restrict the franchise so that they can win elections unfairly or illegally.”

In the past, Steyer has worked to empower the youth vote —  especially given that “Republicans are terrified of young people,” he told MTV News. In 2013, the former hedge fund manager created NextGen America, an organization that mobilizes students and young people to vote in crucial elections. “I haven't just talked about this,” Steyer said. “I have a history that says, ‘I know this is important and I've actually gotten it done.’”

Joe Sestak 

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Does he have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

In addition to strengthening the security of U.S. elections, ending gerrymandering, and increasing voter rights protections, the former Representative believes that the best way to get more young people involved in voting is to address issues that matter to them. “Young people need to feel like their politicians are working for them,” the admiral told MTV News in a statement. “That means offering real solutions to issues that matter to them, like dealing with climate change, reducing gun violence, improving our system of education and training, making it easier to save for and buy a first home, fighting for LGBTQ rights, and increasing the number of well-paid and fulfilling jobs that give people a sense of self-worth. It means tackling income inequality and poverty, and defending our most marginalized communities. There is so much we must do, and it can only be done if young people get involved and stay involved.”

Donald Trump

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Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Nope.

Given that Trump kicked off his presidency by falsely claiming that “millions and millions” of people voted illegally in 2016, thus costing him the popular vote, it’s not surprising that his 2020 re-election campaign is devoid of any plans to strengthen voter access for disenfranchised people. He continues to lie about similar conspiracy theories to this day and has used his unfounded claims to call for strict voter ID laws. “No debate on Election Security should go forward without first agreeing that Voter ID (Identification) must play a very strong part in any final agreement,” he tweeted in August 2019. “Without Voter ID, it is all so meaningless!”

Of course, the irony here is that Trump’s own campaign history and presidential victory is marred by dishonesty. It has been concluded that Russia interfered with the 2016 election with intention of favoring Trump; plus, there’s the impeachment inquiry over Trump asking a foreign adversary to investigate a 2020 political opponent — all of which affects how Americans view our election system.

According to an August 2019 poll conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University, nearly 40 percent of participating voters expressed concerns about the integrity of the upcoming presidential election. Another study, conducted by Ipsos for C-SPAN, determined that only half of Americans believe that the 2020 vote will be conducted “openly and fairly.” President of Ipsos Public Affairs in the U.S. Cliff Young described the results to The Hill as “a crisis of confidence in our democracy,” adding: “By and large, the American people do not believe our elections are safe from foreign interference, and there is a vast partisan disagreement over whether the next election will be open and fair.”

Joe Walsh

Bill Clark/Roll Call

Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? No specific plan has been published at this time.

Former congressman Walsh (R-IL) is in favor of stringent voter ID laws: In 2012, he introduced the Federal Election Integrity Act, which, had it passed, would have required people to provide a government-issued photo identification in order to cast a vote in federal elections. He maintains that the majority of Americans are in support of voter ID laws; while true, these regulations disproportionately affect people of color, students, and elderly people, a fact Walsh himself identifies as a problem.

“I think if you're going to vote, you've got to show some ID that proves you are who you say you are,” Walsh told MTV News in a phone interview. “And I think there's a reason most of the American people support that. But we’ve got to go out of our way to not make that a hurdle for people and it can be done.”

Walsh also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, pointing out that the GOP has been canceling primaries and caucuses in some states — which he believes is a possible tactic to help Trump win. “We're doing what we can to be part of any and all legal efforts to fight this,” he said. “Most Republican voters in these states have no idea what their party has done…. This should not happen in America. Elections shouldn't be canceled.”

Elizabeth Warren 

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Does she have an official plan to strengthen voting access? Yes!

Warren’s multi-step plan to strengthen everyone’s right to vote includes tackling some of the problems that plagued voters during the 2018 midterms, such as malfunctioning voting machines that created long wait times or an inability to vote entirely.

In a statement, Senator Warren (D-MA) told MTV News that she would “replace every voting machine in the country with state-of-the-art equipment, establish a uniform federal ballot,” and “implement automatic and same-day voter registration” to make going to the polls a much simpler process.

“Far too often, voter suppression tactics prevent young people and people of color from making their voices heard,” she said. “We need a constitutional amendment to protect the right to vote, but there are steps we can take right now to put more federal muscle into the fight against voter suppression.” Her official platform also adds that she will outlaw partisan gerrymandering and overturn every rule that “racist politicians use to steal votes from people of color.”

Bill Weld

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Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? He supports it, but no official platform has been published at this time.

Governor Weld told MTV News that voter access is truly at the heart of his campaign and said he believes his approach sets him apart from others in the Republican Party.

“[Voter access] has never been more important,” Weld said during a phone interview. “I think we need to shine a floodlight on those cases in the South and middle states where it's been found that the Republicans were trying to suppress votes.”

Weld wants to make voting easier by allowing people to vote via mobile devices — a practice that is already happening in parts of the country. “The reason people object to mobile voting is they say it's insecure,” he said. “I think it's a lot more secure than traditional voting places.” While smartphone voting certainly can expand accessibility and make voting more convenient, cybersecurity experts have raised concerns that the practice could be susceptible to hacking.

Like Walsh, the former governor also expressed worries about this particular presidential race. “President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he doesn't want to have any primaries,” Weld said. “He doesn't want to have any debates. He doesn't even want an election. [Trump] talks about what Xi Jinping did in China so that he doesn't ever have to face another election again. And Trump cites that with approval.”

Marianne Williamson

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Project Angel Food

Does she have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Yup!

Williamson’s platform includes lowering the voting age to 16 and simultaneously implementing automatic voter registration. “We have to consider [young people] among the most vulnerable,” she told MTV News during a phone interview. “And in the case of the future, they're the ones with the biggest stake. The [older generations] have the audacity to make all these decisions for people who stand to remain for the next 40, 50, 60 years — without keeping in mind the challenges of those younger people.”

The author also noted that the historic Voting Rights Act has been weakened over time, tracing back to the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder Supreme Court case, which rendered an important section of the Voting Rights Act inoperable. “I think it's important for people to see the direct causative link between chipping away at the Voting Rights Act and all of these voter suppression efforts all around the country,” Williamson explained, adding that she would take steps to end efforts like gerrymandering and prohibitive voter ID laws.

Andrew Yang 

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Does he have an official plan for strengthening voter access? Yes!

Yang has also proposed lowering the voting age to 16 in order to increase voter turnout and get people civically engaged earlier. He said he believes in restoring voter rights to people who have previously been incarcerated in order to “increase their engagement with society.”

The entrepreneur wants to introduce new systems like ranked choice voting, which gives voters the ability to rank several candidates in order of their preference. The practice is currently being explored in the state of Maine and was recently approved by voters in New York City. “Our democracy needs to be reformed and strengthened if we are going to really be reflective and representative of the will of the people,” Yang said in a statement to MTV News. “It’s the only way that we can ensure that every eligible voter who wants to have their say, can on Election Day.”

Ella Cerón and Christianna Silva provided additional reporting for this story.