New Delaware law allows 16-year-olds to preregister to vote

by Jo McKeegan // Published September 9, 2010

Yesterday, September 8th, Delaware governor Jack Markell signed into law House Bill 381, allowing 16 year olds to preregister to vote at age 16 when they register for a driver’s license.  While the teenagers will be preregistered to vote, they will not be eligible to vote until after their 18th birthday.

Every year, more than 26,000 Delaware teens arrive at the DMV hoping to earn a driver’s license.  However, less than half of that number register to vote each year.  The goal of the new law is to increase voter turnout among young people and to engage citizens in the political process from an early age.  Currently, young voters ages 18-24 make up around 12% of the potential voters, but only 9.5% of votes cast. A study by Michael P. McDonald of George Mason University has shown that students who preregister are more likely to vote as young adults than students who wait until their 18th birthday to register.

Gov. Markell stated: “Delaware’s young people do a great job making themselves heard to their elected officials in so many ways.  Any given week, people under 18 make their perspectives clear with calls, emails, tweets, Facebook posts, even the occasional letter. But the most powerful statement one can make about the direction of their government is at the polls and by registering to vote. This law says to Delaware’s youth that when you accept the responsibility to join our roadways as a driver, seize the chance to join the public debate as a future voter.”

Five states (Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, and Rhode Island) and Washington, D.C. have passed legislation allowing 16-year-olds to preregister. Additionally, California and Oregon have adopted a 17-year-old pre-registration age.  Other states are considering similar bills.