Bill lets 16-year-olds preregister to vote
The proposal was introduced at the behest of Guillaume de Ramel, Democratic candidate for secretary of state

By Elizabeth Gudrais
Published April 19th 2006 in Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE -- Until 1971, the voting age in the United States was 21. It's 18 now, and one candidate for secretary of state wants to let teenagers get a jump on the voting process by registering as early as age 16.

A bill introduced at the behest of Guillaume de Ramel, Democratic candidate for secretary of state, would allow 17-year-olds to register as long as they will turn 18 before the next election. And it would allow 16-year-olds to "preregister" so their registration automatically becomes active when they turn 18.

If a student is already registered to vote, the lessons of high-school courses in civics, American history, and constitutional law will gain immediate relevance, de Ramel said yesterday.

"There's much more incentive to stay informed about your local, state and federal elections," he said.

De Ramel came across the idea at a National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Washington earlier this year. At that conference, he heard about FairVote, an initiative of the Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy. Representatives of FairVote visited Rhode Island yesterday to announce de Ramel's bill in a State House news conference.

Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote is "really one of those no-brainer ideas that nobody's thinking about," FairVote director Robert Richie said in an interview later.

State Rep. Edwin R. Pacheco, D-Burrillville, said he introduced the bill last Wednesday, but that it would not show up in the bill status system until the General Assembly returns next week from its April break.

"I know this is going to help in engaging younger people and making them feel like part of the process," Pacheco, who is 24 and graduated from the University of Rhode Island last year, said.

FairVote seeks to boost the ranks of registered American voters. At 72 percent, the proportion of adult U.S. citizens registered to vote is "much lower than the international norm," Richie said. For American citizens age 18 to 24, that percentage falls to one in three, he said.**

Rhode Island would be only the second state to allow citizens under 18 to preregister. Hawaii already allows it, Richie said.

In the primary race for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, de Ramel, of Newport, faces North Providence Mayor A. Ralph Mollis. Republican Sue Stenhouse is also running.

**[FairVote Editorial Note: Registration for this agegroup is under 60%, but voter turnout in off-presidential years drops below one in three.]