BLOG: Getting High-Schoolers Pre-Registered to Vote

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A Republican is leading the charge at the Capitol to change the law to allow 17-year-olds to register to vote.   Rep Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) is the Chief Author of a bill with six Democrat House sponsors, House File 391.

Rep Dean Urdahl, MN House

The original bill was written to allow 16-year-olds to pre-register, but Urdahl made an amendment to change the age to 17 during the February 26th Government Operations and Elections Policy committee meeting.

There were several student testifiers at the meeting.  One, college student Thomas Cummins, said that he wrote the bill to get more young people engaged.  He shared a story of registering during political science class at age 17 and his own teacher being confused about what it would mean for that year’s school board election.  He also stated that he had many conversations with Secretary of State Steve Simon, a strong supporter of this legislation.

Another testifier, 16-year-old Southwest High School student Holden Platt, shared an anecdote about fifth graders not being allowed to vote in their student council race, which he worked to remedy.  He said that his school experienced more cooperation as a result of the change, including first graders who started a composting program.  Platt also cited higher youth turnout in states that have adopted pre-registration.

The push to pre-register to vote has gained momentum over the last decade with twenty-two states allowing some form of the practice, including Minnesota.   Nine of these states, like Minnesota, limit pre-registration to those who will be legally eligible to vote by the next election.  Only eight of these states allow 16-year-olds to pre-register.  Urdahl’s bill would mean that Minnesota would join California,

Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia in specifying age 17 as the legal age in which a voter could pre-register.

Staff from the Secretary of State’s office also testified at the February 26th meeting and acknowledged that youths who pre-register would receive a voter registration card like any other legal Minnesota voter, but that the card states the legal eligibility requirements to vote.  They also stated that there may need to be some modified language on the cards should the law change.

The push for pre-registration is championed by Common Cause, a liberal advocacy organization based in Washington DC.  Their local Minnesota chapter is currently pushing a law change to expand voting rights to convicted felons, and testified at committee meeting. Common Cause advocates for National Popular Vote and ranked choice voting.  Another well-known organization advancing the cause of expanded voter pre-registration is  FairVote, a project of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a 501(c)(3) who–like Common Cause—are working to move forward National Popular Vote, ranked choice voting and universal voter registration.  Universal registration would make voter registration an opt-out process verses the opt-in process we have today. FairVote has an active local Minnesota chapter chaired by former U.S. Congressman Tim Penny.

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