Executive action was taken on a bill that would allow teens 16 and 17 to preregister to vote while applying for their driver’s licenses at the Department of Licensing.
The legislation passed out of committee on a 6-5 vote.
House Bill 1279, termed the Young Voter Registration Equality Act, would help engage high-school students and soon-to-be adults in the political process, declared prime-sponsor Rep. Steve Bergquist (D-11th District, Renton). It would also increase accessibility to voter registration, he stated.
“It’s important to have voter access opportunities,” said Bergquist.
But Rep. Vincent Buys (R-42nd District, Lynden) claimed that the bill is not a matter of access since Washington provides online voter registration.
During testimony on the bill last week Bergquist invited two of his former students to speak in support of the measure, one of whom was Monica Mendoza-Castrejon, now a freshman at the University of Washington. She spoke on behalf of The Washington Bus and OneAmerica, two organizations that strive to increase voter participation among youth and minority groups. She told legislators that motor voter registration would likely inspire civic participation in high school students and increase voter turnout.
“It would increase the chances of and likelihood of many more youth to vote in our next election cycle,” she said.
Supporters of the bill said its passage is important to upholding democratic standards.
Some concerns, however, were expressed.
Buys noted that technical glitches could allow ballots to be sent to preregistered, non-eligible voters.
Katie Blinn of the secretary of state’s office noted that, while these types of problems can be addressed with advanced technology, a fair share of human input is needed to process the computer program, increasing the risk of non-eligible persons receiving ballots. With the need for more personnel or an increase in worker hours, she added, comes a higher price tag.
Others are concerned about the mobility of 18-year-olds and the cost of sending voters’ pamphlets and ballots to persons who no longer live at the same residences when they registered at ages 16 or 17.
While 16- and 17-year-olds are among the most stable in terms of moving trends, 18- to 24-year-olds are the most mobile. Bergquist stated, however, that a majority of his 12th-grade students are at least 18 during an election cycle and, therefore, eligible to vote.
There are also questions about whether preregistration would actually increase voter turnout among young adults.
During the national election that took place this past November, 49 percent of youth (ages 18 to 29) voted country-wide. In Washington, about 80 percent of registered youth turned out.
In a 2010 analysis provided by a George Mason University (GMU) professor and a GMU Ph.D. candidate, teen preregistration would lead to an increase in youth voting because candidates would target young adults more heavily due to the increased number of youth who register compared to the total number of registered voters across all age groups.
Arguments opposing the bill irritated Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36th District, Seattle).
“It’s incredibly hard for me to feel anything other than a sense of frustration that we are seemingly afraid of a wave of young people charging into our electoral system,” he said.
Blinn maintained that the Secretary of State’s office is concerned about increased costs this bill could bring. She urged that, if the bill passes, lawmakers also provide appropriate funding for the program.
There would be no cost to the internal functioning of the Secretary of State’s office or DOL, but counties may have to modify their voter registration management system for preregistered teens, which could accrue additional costs.
Eight other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws that provide those at least 16 years of age to preregister to vote.