In the 2014 elections, California had dismally low voter turnout, especially among young people. Fewer than 16 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year olds cast their ballots in the election, and only about half even registered to vote. Rates among minority groups were even lower: only 34 percent of Latino eligible youth and 31 percent of Asian American/Pacific Islander eligible youth were registered to vote, compared to 45 percent of non-Hispanic White eligible youth.
California is now making strides toward engaging young voters by making 16- and 17-year-olds eligible to “preregister” to vote, starting this fall. If the teens preregister, they will be automatically listed on the voter rolls when they turn 18.
Our new report, Path to the Polls, co-authored with CALPIRG Education Fund and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, makes recommendations to encourage California to adopt strong policies to make voter preregistration effective. For example, California should offer preregistration opportunities at the places where 16- and 17-year-olds commonly go, like the DMV and high schools, as well as non-traditional venues like cultural programs, naturalization ceremonies, recreational and afterschool programs, and foster youth services. Preregistration should be as easy and digital-friendly as possible and should include follow-up to increase the likelihood that preregistered voters vote in the first election in which they are eligible to participate.
Voter preregistration provides California with an opportunity to improve young voter participation. Research shows that allowing preregistration can increase young voter turnout by up to 13 percentage points. And people who vote at an early age are more likely to stay engaged and vote in later elections.
Several states with voter preregistration have implemented programs to help teens take advantage of the ability to preregister. In Florida, elections officials are required to do outreach at every public high school and college campus; in Hawaii, high school assemblies blend music and pop culture with voter registration instruction; in Louisiana, 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically preregistered when they apply for a driver’s license, unless the teen opts out.
To fulfill its promise, our democracy must represent the voices of all of its members. By supporting preregistration laws with appropriate and effective preregistration programs, California can help to ensure that its diverse youth have a say in the policy decisions that will shape their future.