New Congressional Bill Would Let More Young Americans Register to Vote

Posted by Nathan Nicholson on September 16, 2015
FairVote led the charge for youth pre-registration in the states. A new law would set a nationwide standard.

In an encouraging step forward for voter access and participation, U.S. Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) today unveiled legislation that would allow young Americans ages 16 and over to pre-register to vote. Pre-registration allows young people who have not reached the voting age to register and be automatically added to the voter rolls upon turning 18.

Beyer and Ellison’s Pre-Registration of Voters Everywhere (PROVE) Act responds to low turnout among young voters. Just 16% of eligible voters under age 24 voted in the 2014 midterm elections. The bill would also provide grants to states to conduct civic engagement education and encourage the involvement of young people in the electoral process.

The PROVE Act follows a decade of significant progress in state-level advocacy for voter pre-registration. FairVote is proud to have played a key role in sparking and sustaining support for pre-registration in the national discourse. A wave of states introduced pre-registration bills beginning in 2006 following a research and advocacy push by FairVote in concert with the New America Foundation. In 2010, following efforts by FairVote and Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina joined Hawaii and Florida—which had long allowed citizens under 18 to register early—as the third state to implement pre-registration for 16-year-olds.

FairVote also contributed to successful passage of pre-registration in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Maryland, which are now joined by Colorado, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Utah, and D.C. in allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register. Additionally, a number of states now allow pre-registration for young people ages 17 and over.

Research on the effects of pre-registration legislation in the states clearly shows its ability to increase turnout. A 2015 analysis found that pre-registration laws increased turnout by up to 13%, with close to equal mobilization among Republicans and Democrats. In Florida, voters who pre-registered were found to turn out to vote at a 4.7% higher rate than those who registered after turning 18.

In a press release, bill sponsor Don Beyer said, “This is a common-sense reform to increase civic engagement in our youngest generations. Pre-registration, especially when reinforced with a strong civics curriculum, is a proven method to boost engagement in future generations. This is a small but meaningful step to strengthening representative government and our American democracy.”
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