Some Teens Can Now Pre-Regsiter To Vote in 14 States

Supermajority Education Fund

March 3, 2020

A growing number of states are allowing teen residents to pre-register to vote before they turn 18 thanks to legislation geared towards making voting more accessible. New York State is the latest state in which a state law took effect; As of January, 16 and 17-year-old New Yorkers can pre-register to vote online or in-person at their local Department of Motor Vehicles or Board of Elections office.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states and Washington, DC currently allow 16-year-olds to pre-register, and four other states — Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia — permit pre-registration beginning at age 17.

The sponsors of the New York State law said they wanted to boost voter participation in the state, which had the eighth-worst turnout in the country during the 2016 presidential election, with only 57 percent of eligible voters heading to the polls.

“When young people are engaged from an early age, they stay engaged,” state Sen. David Carlucci, who sponsored the legislation, said in a January statement. “By eliminating barriers to register and increasing education, we are strengthening our democracy.”

Advocates who are working on increasing turnout among younger voters agree. “Simply put, young voters are new voters,” Carolyn DeWitt, the president of the nonprofit Rock the Vote, told Supermajority News. “And let’s face it, the process to register and vote is incredibly archaic compared to modern lives young people lead.”

Support from community members, as well as groups like Rock the Vote, could play a major role in getting younger voters to the polls. “Getting young people to pre-register to vote is a pro-democracy policy change that significantly improves young people’s access to voting,” DeWitt said, adding that registering “while they are often still living at home and attending high school” increases the likelihood that they have “support to guide them through the registration process.”

DeWitt also cautions that low voter turnout among young voters is also due to voter suppression, particularly in regions with large numbers of college students. Factors like “moving polling places off college campuses, restrictive ID laws, and proof of residency requirements, coupled with the fact that we, as a society, have done very little to prepare [young people] with substantial and practical civic education” make it “completely understandable they turn out at lower rates,” DeWitt noted.

Voters of color of all ages have also faced increasing voter suppression since the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The Guardian recently reported that hundreds of polling stations have been closed in neighborhoods where Black and Latino populations have grown the most, raising concerns about whether these voters will be able to access a polling place this year.

Overcoming these barriers could significantly change election outcomes, considering that millennials and voting-eligible Gen Z comprise nearly 40% of the potential American electorate. As DeWitt put it, because of the “sheer numbers” of these groups, it doesn’t take much “for them to determine the direction of our country and communities.”