Voter Pre-Registration Bill Signed Into Law

by Dave on September 8, 2010

Surrounded by the type of high school students who will benefit from this new law, Governor Jack A. Markell signed legislation on Wednesday allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they apply for their driver’s license, becoming the sixth state to pass such legislation.

Students enrolled in William Penn High School’s driver’s education class flanked the governor and House Majority Whip Rep. Valerie J. Longhurst as the representative’s bill was signed into law. House Bill 381 permits a teenager who is applying for their driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicle to also pre-register to vote. However, they would not be able to vote in an election until they turn 18.

“Delaware’s young people do a great job making themselves heard to their elected officials in so many ways,” Governor Markell said. “Any given week, people under 18 make their perspectives clear with calls, emails, tweets, Facebook posts, even the occasional letter. But the most powerful statement one can make about the direction of their government is at the polls and by registering to vote. This law says to Delaware’s youth that when you accept the responsibility to join our roadways as a driver, seize the chance to join the public debate as a future voter.”

Current state law allows people over 18 and those who will turn 18 before the next general election to register to vote through the DMV. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2012.

“Teens turning 16 are coming into the age of adulthood: they are starting to drive, getting after-school jobs and planning for their future after high school,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear, whose daughter turned 16 this year and whose son is 12. “These teens are the leaders of tomorrow. By making pre-registration and a driver’s license available at the same time, it provides one-stop shopping for teens. We’re engaging them at an early age and encouraging them to be informed and involved in the electoral process before they turn 18 so that when they’re able to vote, they will.”

According to the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, more than 26,800 16- and 17-year-olds applied for their driver’s license from 2007-09. During the same three-year period, the state Department of Elections reported that about 14,000 18-year-olds registered to vote.

Rep. Longhurst noted that once a teen gets their driver’s license, there is no need for them to return to the DMV for a new one until they turn 21. The legislation would eliminate the need for a separate trip to register to vote when they turn 18.

According to FairVote, a national group focused on increasing voter participation, five other states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar legislation allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register, including Maryland. Additionally, California and Oregon have adopted a 17-year-old pre-registration age. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas and Michigan also considered pre-registration proposals for teens under 18 this year.

release from Delaware House Majority Caucus

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