On Sunday, amidst some disappointing vetoes, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a voter registration bill that allows 17 year olds to pre-register to vote. With the governor's signature, California becomes the eighth state to allow 16 or 17 year olds to pre-register, with registrations automatically becoming active when they reach voting age. Such a uniform advance vote registration age makes it much easier to initiate comprehensive voter registration and education programs in high schools and at the DMV.
2009 has been a banner year for this reform, triggered by the analysis and advocacy begun by FairVote and the New America Foundation's political reform program in 2005 as we explored ways to advance toward our goal of full and accurate voter rolls. Earlier this year, Democracy North Carolina and FairVote North Carolina led a coalition that helped North Carolina become the third state (after Hawaii and Florida) to set a uniform pre-registration age of 16 years old, and more than a half a dozen states and the District of Columbia have introduced youth pre-registration legislation. Last week the Washington, D.C. City Council unanimously passed a first reading of a bill that with 16-year-old voter pre-registration. This fall, Rhode Island's legislators are hearing from young people and many others urging an override of their governor's veto, while Rep. Ellen Story is among lawmakers in the leadership of the Massachusetts legislature who are making 16-year-old pre-registration a top priority.