Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=132763
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 1:05:48 PM CST
WASHINGTON - Young voters made it out to the polls in record numbers in 2008. In an effort to capitalize on the newfound enthusiasm among the Millennial generation, at least 15 states are working on legislation this year that would make it easier for young people to get registered to vote.
“We want to harness the energy of young people. That’s the lesson that’s been learned from the Obama campaign,” said Paul Fidalgo, the communications director for FairVote, a nonprofit that works to ensure universal access to participation.
An estimated 23 million people under 30 voting in the presidential election, according to statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
Ten states are considering legislation that would allow 16-year-olds – or in some cases, even younger people – to pre-register to vote. The registration would only become active once the voter turns 18, but the measures are aimed at targeting teenagers when they are still in school and easy to reach.
“Once high school students or those at an early age are engaged earlier in their lifetimes, they become more likely to vote throughout their lives,” said Rep. Edwin R. Pacheco, a Rhode Island Democrat, who sponsored a pre-registration bill that passed the R.I. House of Representatives in March.
FairVote advocates rolling together the voter registration process with the application for drivers’ licenses, streamlining the registration system for students and administrators.
“The more we can get young people informed, the better it’s going to be for us today and for them decades from now,” Fidalgo said.
Other states have introduced legislation that would allow 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next general election to vote during the primaries. In Connecticut, the legislature recently voted to pass an amendment to the state’s constitution to allow 17-year-old primary voting. Eighteen other states have some sort of 17-year-old primary voting law already on the books.
North Carolina is the only state to include a civic education provision to expand instruction on the importance of voting along with their pre-registration bill.
“That’s important because while it’s good to have the structures in place for youth registration, the educational component is crucial, because it’s what makes the students aware of the opportunity they now have,” said Fidalgo.
For Pacheco, who first ran for political office at 17, encouraging young people to get involved early means fostering a lifetime of civic engagement.
“My reason for putting in this legislation is to increase accessibility into the democratic process,” Pacheco said. “I think once you open up the window of opportunity for someone to become engaged and help establish a foundation for young people to understand that this process is nothing without their participation, they own it.”
This kind of voter reform must be handled on a state-by-state basis, Fidalgo said, since every state controls its own voting laws.