Elections in the United States and the various factors impacting voter turnout and eligibility.

The United States Elections Project

Elections in the United States are a cornerstone of democracy. UCLA Law promotes research, collaboration, and advocacy aimed at ensuring continued free and fair elections conducted in accordance with democratic norms.

The particular voting systems used by states are the prerogative of those states. The federal government develops standards, but decisions about specific systems are made by the states.

Voter turnout

Turnout in elections varies from state to state. Some have higher rates than others, and the reasons for that can be complex and range from structural barriers to persistent voter apathy. Some experts have argued that a decline in voting among young adults could be attributed to President Trump’s efforts to discredit the election system, while other scholars have pointed to structural problems with registration and voting technology.

Nevertheless, the new data show that overall voting rates remain high, well above those in 2014 and earlier. In addition, while national midterm voting took a dip from 2018 to 2022, the turnout rates of most demographic groups continued to rise, including younger voters and people of color.


Noncitizens, such as green-card holders or refugees who are not citizens, are unable to vote in federal elections, though they may register to do so in some states. Some states and territories allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, such as those held in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Despite their legal status, some noncitizens have been able to use their votes to give Democrats the 60th Senate vote needed to pass health care and other Obama administration priorities in 111th Congress. Some Republicans have alleged that noncitizen voting is widespread, but research and state investigations have uncovered only isolated cases of voter fraud.

Some immigrant communities fear that national Republican efforts to prevent noncitizen voting will exacerbate the political divide in the United States. They worry that it will demonize immigrants and lead to nativist anti-immigration laws, like those passed in the early 1900s, when states adopted eugenics laws that prevented many Holocaust survivors from coming to America.

Disfranchised felons

Felon disenfranchisement laws, which deprive people who have felony convictions of their right to vote, vary significantly by state. How long a person is disenfranchised, whether they regain the right to vote at all and how they do so are all determined by state law. This creates a confusing system that deters many who have the right to vote from doing so.

In eleven states, felons never regain the right to vote. These restrictive laws disproportionately impact black voters.

There are a number of arguments for and against restoring the voting rights of felons. Proponents of felony disenfranchisement argue that felons have broken the social contract and should not be allowed to participate in civil society. Opponents of felony disenfranchisement counter that this is an unfair assertion, and that removing barriers to participation in the democratic process will help to promote civic engagement. Those who support disenfranchisement often worry that allowing convicted criminals to vote will lead to the rise of pro-crime politicians and policies.

Voting Eligible Population

The voting-eligible population is a more precise definition of potential voters than the registration rate, which includes people who have taken the additional step of actually registering to vote. The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey reports this data — but registration was not a universal requirement until well into the twentieth century, and states use different criteria for reporting these numbers.

The 8.3 million newly eligible voters ages 18 and 19 are diversifying the electorate and could have an outsized impact on the 2022 midterm elections. They are more likely to be college-educated than older adults, and they voted at significantly higher rates than Black and Hispanic voters who are not college-educated.

But many of these voters vote inconsistently. White age-eligible citizens voted in the 2018 and 2020 elections at comparable rates, but 24% did not vote in either election. In contrast, 27% of Black and Hispanic citizens age-eligible did not vote in either election.

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