Youth Voter Pre-Registration

Vote Once, Vote Forever

Beginning January 1, 2010, 16 and 17 year olds in NC can pre-register to vote using the regular registration form, which has been updated. The voting age doesn’t change, but the new law could boost youth participation by engaging teenagers at the age they get their driver’s license or take Civics in high school. They become automatically registered when they reach voting age. The NC Civic Education Consortium has developed two lesson plans (Can You Hear Me Now and How Do I Pre-Register) for teachers and an accompanying power point presentation. Please let teachers know and give Democracy NC feedback on the lessons and ways to involve youth in the voting process.


More on the Youth Pre-Registration:

A bipartisan bill for the pre-registration of 16-17 year olds was adopted by the General Assembly during the 2009 long session and took effect on January 1, 2010. This law could add thousands of young people to the voter rolls and boost voter education and voter turnout in NC. It allows 16-17 year olds to fill out a pre-registration form, particularly when they take the required civics course in the tenth grade or sign up for a driver's license. When the teenager reaches voting age, he or she will be automatically registered and the board of elections will verify the information on the form following the same process used for all first-time voters.


“This legislation takes advantage of two settings when 16 year olds encounter the role of government – in the civics class and at the motor vehicles office,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, the nonpartisan election reform group that coordinated advocacy for the bill’s passage. “Our research shows that while only about 10 percent of North Carolina citizens over 40 are not registered to vote, nearly one third of those aged 18 to 25 are not on the rolls. We need new ways to introduce young people to voting and to help teach them that registration is the ticket to first-class citizenship.”


The ratified bill also requires county boards of elections to conduct registration drives at high schools each year, and it broadens existing requirements for civics teachers to teach students about voting and the registration process. Election officials point out that forms completed with Division of Motor Vehicles personnel will be electronically transmitted to the State Board of Elections and will avoid many of the problems of reading, processing and verifying handwritten applications.


“Following the procedures described in the legislation, I believe we can maintain the security and integrity of our elections and provide additional access for young people to the voting process,” State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett said in a letter to legislators.


The bill received bipartisan support and was initiated as H-1260 by four sponsors, including Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg), the youngest Democrat in the General Assembly, and Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), the youngest Republican, along with Rep. Angela Bryant (D-Nash) and Rep. Pearl Burris-Floyd (R-Gaston). The bill was later rolled into an omnibus elections bill (H-908) and passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Gov. Bev Perdue is expected to sign the bill; it takes effect on January 1, 2010.


Representatives of the NC associations of principals, school boards, and teachers approved the legislation, as well as a variety of nonpartisan organizations, including Action for Children, FairVote NC, Kids Voting, League of Women Voters, NAACP, NC Center for Voter Education, UNC Civic Education Consortium, and Youth Empowered Solutions.


“We look forward to implementing this bill with partners across the state,” said Hall. “Only Florida and Hawaii have similar pre-registration laws for 16 year olds, but neither state is taking full advantage of opportunities for hands-on civic education and increased youth participation. This is another chance for North Carolina to do good and also be a model for the nation.”


What We're Doing Now

We have already begun the implementation phase for the youth pre-registration law, including working with the State Board of Elections on procedures for processing pre-registrations and talking with the Department of Public Instruction about ways to incorporate pre-registration in civics teaching.

We are also beginning to talk with teachers and local administrators to encourage them to pioneer ways to implement the new law. For example, we recently talked with NAACP leaders about collaborating on a project that combines outreach about pre-registration with outreach about the 2010 Census, to be sent to people in March. We believe that, with good adult support, high school students can come up with their own outreach projects to educate their peers about the value of signing up to vote and the value of their families and neighbors filling out the Census because of its impact on a community’s money and power. We will be assisting the NAACP in conducting trainings with youth and adult NAACP leaders and others to inspire participation.


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