Let's pre-register 16-year-olds to vote
Published February 12th 2007 in Kalamazoo Gazette

Young Americans have a reputation for not registering or voting.

Perhaps the low interest in participating in democracy at 18 years old is somehow related to young non-voters not seeing how they have a stake in the outcome of federal, state and local elections.

Voter turnout among those between the ages of 18 and 29 years old increased in the 2002 and 2006 elections, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, with many young voters saying they were propelled to the polls by concerns about the direction the nation was headed.

But absent extraordinary times such as these, before young people marry, buy homes and send children to school, they are notoriously difficult to motivate to register to vote and go to the polls.

Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has an idea to get prospective young voters registered long before they are old enough to vote.

If there's any time you can't keep 16-year-olds away from a Secretary of State's office, it's when they're old enough for the state's graduated driver licensing program. Land's idea is simple: When 16-year-olds come in to apply for a driver's license, have them pre-register to vote at the same time.

Once they reach the age of 18, they would automatically be added to the state's voter registration list. Land's office would send out a confirmation notice when the young person is old enough to vote. If the confirmation notice is returned by the U.S. Postal Service because the person no longer lives at that address, the registration is voided.

Land's proposal to make Michigan the first in the nation to allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote is one in her list of 20 proposals to make it easier to vote and to encourage clean, indisputable elections.

Other proposals would make it easier for college students to vote for the first time by absentee ballot, protect the integrity of new registrations collected via registration drives, allow no-reason absentee voting, allow early in-person voting and set up ``super-precincts'' where voting could be conducted in advance.

We hope the Legislature and governor will act on a number of Land's proposals in the coming year.

We'd like nothing better than to see a slew of 18-year-olds get their voter registration cards in the mail because Secretary of State workers made sure they pre-registered two years earlier.

To a 16-year-old, the most important rite of passage is getting a driver's license. On that same day, they would learn that the real rite of passage into adulthood is being able to vote.