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Jan 21 / PV Admin

Efforts to Engage Youth Voters through Preregistration Underway

Last week, the Arizona Legislature introduced a Preregistration bill in the House, bringing it one step closer to allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. If passed, Arizona would join Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, and soon, Rhode Island in their efforts to engage youth before they may legally vote.

Passing a preregistration policy in Arizona has been a three-year effort by several election groups and lawmakers, including Project Vote, which worked with lawmakers in providing a model bill prior to the writing of HB 2269. Arizona and voting rights groups hope to improve the state’s unusually low voter registration rates among 18- 29 year olds. Arizona ranks 40th out of all states for youth voter registration, according to a Project Vote report, Representational Bias in the 2008 Electorate . Many hope this law change will stem the tide.

Like most states in the U.S., Arizona faces a significant budget shortfall this year. With many lawmakers expecting the number to reach up to five billion dollars for the 2010 budget, the issue of cost for a preregistration program has naturally been raised. However ,“lawmakers have been surprised at how little it will cost to implement the preregistration bill. That, in addition to its potential to engage young Arizonans in the democratic process, is helping to move this bill along,” said Arizona-based Project Vote election administration coordinator, Bodunrin Banwo. According to a recent Project Vote fact sheet, Expanding the Youth Electorate in Arizona with Preregistration, implementation can cost as little as three cents per card, if administered online, as Arizona law permits.

The next step in the preregistration journey is the Arizona state senate, where observers expect a similar bill to be introduced this week.

A similar measure was recently adopted in Rhode Island, though it was a long time coming. On January 5,  legislators overrode Governor Donald Carcieri’s veto of preregistration bill, H 5005/S 85, making Rhode Island the fourth state in the country to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote so that they will automatically be eligible to vote once they turn 18. The 2009 bill was the fourth to be adopted by the state legislature and vetoed by the governor, who claimed such a measure would compromise the integrity of the voter rolls despite widespread support from dozens of civil rights groups as well as the state chief elections official.

“With the good will and strong advocacy provided over the years by FairVote and like-minded reformers-such as the leadership of both houses, Reps. Edwin Pacheco and Christopher Fierro, Sens. Paul Jabour and Rhoda Perry, and Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis-Rhode Island voters will now have expanded access for its newest voters…,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan think tank. “This is a good day for democracy in Rhode Island – and the nation.”

Florida and Hawaii – two states with established preregistration programs that include 16-year-old citizens – have showcased positive and long term effects for thousands of young citizens, according to a recent report by George Mason University associate professor, Michael McDonald. For example, Floridians who preregistered to vote were two percentage points more likely to vote in 2008 than those who registered after they turned 18.

With states like Arizona, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, and, most recently, New Hampshire moving similar legislation in recent legislative sessions, we expect to see preregistration lead youth voter engagement discussions in future election reform debates.

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