Should Young American Citizens Be Able to Pre-Register to Vote at 16? (H.R. 1442)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 1442?
(Updated August 25, 2021)
This bill — the Pre-Registration of Voters Everywhere (PROVE) Act — would create a national minimum age of 16 years old to pre-register to vote in federal elections, meaning they won’t need to register after they turn 18. It’d also direct the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to give $25 million in grants to state to increase minors’ involvement in public election activities.
Argument in favor
Pre-registering young people to vote will remove one of the barriers to their participating in elections. Given that youth ages 18-24 are 20 percent less likely than the general population to be registered to vote, this is a worthwhile cause.
Simply pre-registering young people to vote won’t necessarily lead to their participation in elections. It may not be worth the time, money, and effort that’d be spent on this bill if the young people who are pre-registered under this bill don’t actually cast ballots.
Youth; voters; 16- and 17-year olds; state election commissions; public election activities; federal elections; and the EAC.
Cost of H.R. 1442
A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.
In-Depth: Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to allow young Americans to pre-register to vote in federal elections, automatically adding them to voter rolls when they turn 18.. When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress in 2017, he said:
“This reform would encourage more voter participation among young people who will be most affected by public policy as their lives unfold. The health of our democracy requires greater engagement from its citizens, and pre-registration is a proven tool to accomplish this.”
In a letter to his Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill in the 116th Congress, Rep. Beyer wrote:
“Research on the effects of pre-registration shows it is an effective way to increase overall voter participation and encourage civic engagement. Nothing is more important to representative government than choosing our leaders through free and fair elections. Unfortunately, too many young people do not participate in the electoral process. In the last federal election cycle, the registration rate for 18- to 24-year-olds was 20 percent lower than the national average for all other age groups. More than 20 states and the District of Columbia already allow young people to pre-register to vote. A study by George Mason University examined two of these states – Florida and Hawaii – and discovered strong evidence to support the positive impact pre-registration has on turnout and civic engagement. The same study showed these results were even more pronounced when election officials and school administrators worked together to develop civics curriculum aimed at improving electoral participation… Voting is habit forming. When people vote, they are likely to vote again. The PROVE Act is an effective way to engage young people early and encourage lasting participation in elections.”
Rock the Vote is one of the organizations supporting this bill. Its president, Carolyn deWitt, said the following when this bill was introduced in the 115th Congress:
“When young people come together to participate in elections, we have the strength to change our society for the better — to speak truth to power and create a system that works for all of us. “That’s why Rock the Vote is proud to support the PROVE Act, a critical step toward helping the next generation of Americans register to vote and make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
This bill has 27 Democratic House sponsors in the 116th Congress. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) with the support of 16 Democratic cosponsors, has also been introduced in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, Rep. Beyer and Sen. Duckworth each introduced this bill in their respective chambers (Rep. Beyer with 52 Democratic House cosponsors, and Sen. Duckworth with eight Democratic Senate cosponsors) and neither bill received committee votes.
This bill has the support of Rock the Vote, Common Cause, HeadCount, FairVote Action, and the Bus Project.
Of Note: Young people are already allowed to pre-register to vote in twenty states and the District of Columbia. However, current pre-registration laws aren’t uniform: in some states, all 17-year-olds and some 16-year-olds can register. In others, some 17-year-olds and no 16-year-olds can register. And in many states, eligibility changes yearly based on the date of the next election. FairVote claims that “the lack of uniformity creates confusion and makes it harder to run effective voter registration and education programs in schools and at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).”
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) notes that there are a range of considerations to keep in mind when implementing pre-registration, including: effects on turnout, logistics, cost, identification, locations where pre-registration can occur, what information should be protected, and how to conduct education and outreach efforts.
In a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Political Science, Duke University researchers John B. Holbein and D. Sunshine Hillygus looked at pre-registration and voting trends from 2000-2012 using Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey data, and specifically in Florida (the first state to implement pre-registration, in 1990):
Preregistration increases the probability that young voters will participate in elections. The probability that youth will vote increases in states with pre-registration laws by an average of two to 13 percent, depending on the model the authors used for their analysis.
In Florida specifically, pre-registering increased turnout by three to 14 percent.
The impact of pre-registration is similar for young Democrats and young Republicans. Preregistration raised voter turnout by about 7.6 percent among young Democrats and 7.4 percent among young Republicans.
- The impact of pre-registration is similar for men and women and for white voters and minority voters. Preregistration raised voter turnout by about 7.3 percentage points among males and 7.4 percentage points among females. It raised voter turnout by about 7.6 percent among white voters and 8 percent among minorities.
In an article published in the in December 2017, Anthony Fowler argued that youth pre-registration has a negligible effect on youth turnout: “On average, pre-registration appears to increase youth turnout by about two percentage points—a modest effect notably below previous estimates in the literature.”
In the 2016 federal election cycle, the registration rate for 18 to 24-year-olds was 20 percent lower than the national average for all age groups. People aged 18 to 24 are consistently the least likely age group to cast a ballot, a trend which continued in 2016.
Sponsoring Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) Press Release (115th Congress)
Sponsoring Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) Dear Colleague Letter
FairVote (In Support, Context)
Making Young Voters: The Impact of Preregistration on Youth Turnout (Context)
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / adamkaz)
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