State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, has introduced a bill that would allow 15-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Senate Bill 113 would not change the voting age, but it would allow a person to fill out the necessary forms to become pre-registered beginning at 15, an age when young people typically head to the DMV to get their instructional permit or driver’s license. Since 1995, the federal Motor Voter Law has allowed voter registration when applying for a driver’s license.
“Becoming a driver is an important rite of passage, and so is becoming a voter,” Jackson said. “When teenagers take the wheel to become a driver, we’re saying, let’s create an easy opportunity for them to also become a future voter.”
“One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is talking with students about the importance of voting,” said Secretary of State Debra Bowen, California’s chief elections official, who is the sponsor and approached Jackson with the bill idea. “Young people are more likely to become lifelong voters when they are engaged early, so offering the opportunity to pre-register will be a powerful tool in getting them hooked on democracy.”
Under the bill, 15-year-olds could also pre-register to vote online or by mail. Once the pre-registrant turns 18, they would be eligible to vote.
Currently, nearly one-quarter of all Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered to vote. Participation is even lower for young voters, with only half of eligible voters registered.
Six states — Florida, Hawaii, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware — and the District of Columbia already allow voter pre-registration at age 16. Oregon allows voter pre-registration at age 17.
Numerous studies have shown that when young voters are registered, they turn out in high numbers. A 2009 George Mason University study found that preregistration programs in Hawaii and Florida encouraged young people to start voting and keep voting.
“This bill would encourage a one-stop shop for teens, where they accomplish two important tasks at once,” Jackson said. “But we hope that it will have a big payoff in terms of encouraging more lifelong, engaged voters, which is what we need for a healthy democracy.”
Existing law permits a person who will be 18 at the time of the next election to register to vote. SB 113 would accelerate a provision in existing law that would allow 17-year-olds to pre-register and expand it to include 15- and 16-year-olds.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.