Proposal allows teens to pre-register

A bill proposed this week, would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister, although they still couldn’t vote until they turned 18.

Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, who co-sponsored the bill said she believes it is never too early to start engaging young people about their right and their responsibility to vote.

Auglaize County Elections Board Director Carolyn Campbell said the bill, which would require information be stored in one data base and then moved as teens became of voting age, is not getting favorable reviews from those who would be handling the information.

“Once they turn 18, they move away from home and then their addresses need updated or they may have forgotten they registered altogether,” Campbell said of some of the problems with pre-registering teens before they are eligible to vote.

If approved as proposed, once teens reach the age of voter eligibility, they would be automatically registered from their pre-registration information.

The state already allows 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the November election to vote on candidates in the primary.

“They get a voice on that,” Campbell said.

This year, the only 17-year-olds in the county who can vote in the May primary are registered Republicans in St. Marys, to select  candidates for the November city council election.

The elections board director said 17-year-olds who serve as poll workers also submit voter registrations with party affiliations.

“A 16-year-old can’t do anything so there is no purpose to it,” Campbell said of preregistering them.

Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina and Rhode Island allow voter pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and California and Oregon allow it for 17-year-olds. Other states, including Colorado and Washington, are considering providing the ability for teens to preregister when they receive their motor vehicle operator’s license, while California is considering lowering the pre-registration age to 15.

Other states have proposed other pre-registration bills through the years, but they were never passed.

Pointing to a FairVote study, Turner said only 59 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are registered to vote, compared to 71 percent of all eligible voters registered nationwide.

She said her goal is getting as many people as possible registered to vote and pre-registration is a big step toward that.

Pre-registration may have a positive impact on young voter turnout, according to Project Vote, a national, non-partisan, non-profit working to empower, educate and mobilize underrepresented voters.

By pre-registering when they are in high school, students are doing so while concurrently learning about the importance of voting and civic activism and the electoral process, Corey Peterson wrote for Project Vote.

A 2010 George Mason University study also found that pre-registration of young people, “appears to have positive and persisting long-term effects on voting propensities.” According to the study, the most success comes when policy makers ensure preregistration as a component of high school curriculums.

In Florida, a bill recently introduced would require election supervisors to conduct annual voter registration and education programs in each high school in the state annually.

An Illinois state senator introduced this year an amendment, which would require each public high school to serve as a place for voter registration.

A 2010 Project Vote study found that states that utilize practices such as establishing partnerships, actively involving students and teachers, including a civic education component, and enacting innovative voter registration programs, have registered many young voters and effectively engaged the youth population in the democratic process.

“To encourage increased young voter turnout for the next election, states should initiate these types of student voter education and registration programs and must consider providing young people the opportunity to preregister to vote,” Peterson said.