Op-ed: Encouraging life-long voting is an idea we all can support

February 02, 2013

Santa Barbara News-Press

Opinion: Encouraging life-long voting is an idea we all can support

by Hannah-Beth Jackson

Encouraging young people to vote by allowing them to pre-register before they're 18 is an idea that everyone — Republican, Democrat or decline to state — should get behind. In many states, they already have.

In 2009, Republican legislators in North Carolina helped pass a law to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

In Florida, a Republican governor signed into law a Republican-backed bill that said: If you're old enough to get a driver's license, you should be able to pre-register to vote, too.

My bill, Senate Bill 113, would allow 15-year-olds in California to pre-register to vote. It wouldn't change the voting age, which will remain 18. But it would make it easier for teens to join the rolls by giving them more time and opportunities to fill out the forms to be ready to cast a ballot. They could pre-register online, by mail, or when they're at the DMV to get their learner's permits or driver's licenses. Once they turn 18, their registration would become active.

Teachers from San Diego County to Humboldt County could, if they choose, make pre-registration information part of a classroom civics lesson. We know this kind of hands-on introduction to voting matters.

Eighteen- to 24-year-olds don't turn out to the polls in the numbers they should. Slightly less than half of the eligible 18- to 24-year-olds registered to vote in 2010, compared with 77.5 percent of the eligible general population. When young people don't vote, their voices go unheard. When we make voter registration too cumbersome, we miss the opportunity to begin good voting habits that last a lifetime.

Cynics have claimed that my bill is a ploy to boost one party's voter rolls over another. But they shouldn't be so quick to assume the political leanings of young voters. In an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee recently, Mindy Romero with the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change noted that young people are the only age group in California whose registration is below 40 percent Democratic. In 15 counties, Ms. Romero states, young adults with "no political preference" outnumbered registered Republicans or Democrats.

A vibrant democracy doesn't just happen. It requires participation and engagement. As each new generation comes of age, we must introduce them to our civic ideals, or we risk losing what's most valuable about ourselves.

Democracy works best when everyone who is eligible participates. Encouraging life-long voting and eliminating registration red tape aren't partisan ideas. They're ideas that anyone who believes in a robust democracy should support.

Hannah-Beth Jackson represents California's 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and Western Ventura County.