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Bill to Lower Voter Registration Age Heads to Governor

The legislation would allow any 17-year-old to pre-register

The California legislature on Thursday approved Assembly Bill 30, a bill lowering the voter registration age to 17.

If signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the legislation could dramatically improve California’s low voter-participation rate for young voters. Nearly half of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 were not registered to vote in 2004 (the most recent year for which data is available).

AB 30 is based on a signature idea from the New America Foundation’s Political Reform Program.

AB 30 would create an option for young people who are 17 years or older to pre-register to vote (sometimes known as “advance” registration). When they turn 18, their registration will automatically become active. The bill would allow young people to be involved in the democratic process at an earlier age and make it more likely that they will remain engaged as they become adults.

State law says anyone age 17 is eligible to pre-register if that individual will be 18 years old before the next election. AB 30 would extend pre-registration to all 17-year-olds, making the treatment of 17-year-olds uniform instead of having some who are eligible to pre-register while others are not.

“Research has demonstrated that developing good political engagement habits at a younger age will increase the likelihood of civic participation as an adult,” said Steven Hill, director of the Political Reform Program. “AB 30 will help break the disengagement cycle that often prevents young people from developing habits of participation that carry over into their adult years.”

Eight states have enacted pre-registration laws.

— Elizabeth Wu represents the New America Foundation.

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