Registration remains the greatest obstacle to youth turnout. For example, in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, while less than 60% of 18-24 year olds were registered to vote, more than 80% of those registered voted.
FairVote NC is proposing legislation that encourages education on and engagement in the electoral process at the high school level and permits 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister for voting when they will become qualified to vote at age 18. Ideally, these students will be allowed to preregister and given information on the process of voting and the first election for which they are eligible to vote.
Why 16 & 17 year olds?
A North Carolina citizen is eligible to apply for a driver’s license at age 16. Like good driving skills, civic engagement and voting is habit-forming. There is much evidence that direct experience with the process of voting increases turnout among first-time eligible voters. Ages 16 & 17 are, in many cases, the last age that individuals can be easily accessed by the public education system before graduation and becoming eligible to vote for the first-time.
North Carolina could accomplish the reform without excessive administrative reform. Like all states, North Carolina already allows many teens to preregister. Seventeen-year-olds who will be 18 before the next general election are already permitted to register as early as sixty days before the preceding primary. Establishing correspondence with 16 and 17-year-olds (who are less likely to move than 18 to 24-year- olds) is an affirmative step toward developing more accurate and comprehensive voter registration rolls. This legislation closely ties education to the registration process to reduce any confusion over preregistration, registration, and voter eligibility.
Furthermore, this legislation would only expand and enhance efforts already implemented by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to educate and engage students as active citizens. In Civics and Economics, a required 10th grade course, students are educated on the US Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, their rights and responsibilities and instructed to put the information into practice. Preregistration would be one method for putting their rights into practice.
Some County Boards of Education already take steps to encourage schools to increase voter registration for 18-year-olds within their county. For example, the Wake County Board of Elections in partnership with the Wake County School Board maintains a contest where high schools registering the most seniors receive formal recognition. These types of programs, in various forms, could be successfully expanded across the state.