Every eligible voter should be able to exercise his or her right to vote. This is as true for first-time voters as it is for long-time voters. But many young, first-time voters may be unaware of Pennsylvania’s registration deadlines or even how to register to vote. Offering young people aged 16 and 17 the opportunity to preregister to vote would make it easier for these voters to cast a ballot once they turn 18, and would engage them in the voting process early on.

States With Preregistration

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Some states allow young people to register before they turn 18 if their 18th birthday is on or before the next election, but preregistration is different. Youth preregistration allows young people to complete a registration form even if they will not be old enough to vote in the next election, ensuring they are on the rolls and able to vote once they are eligible. Young people who preregister stay registered longer and vote at higher rates than persons who register later.

Youth preregistration is usually facilitated through a state’s department of motor vehicles and through high schools. Allowing young people to preregister at these established points of contact makes it easier and more convenient to register to vote. This is particularly important for young people who do not attend college, as college students are registered at significantly higher rates than their peers.

Nine states plus the District of Columbia offer preregistration for 16- or 17-year-olds. Moreover, preregistration in these states has garnered bipartisan support. In states that have already adopted this reform, it has cost both state and county governments virtually nothing to implement. Further, an added benefit for election administrators is that youth preregistration reduces the number of registrations submitted just before the deadline, because these young people have been preregistered in advance. State’s voter registration systems are typically easily programmed to simply move the young person’s record from a preregistered status to active on their 18th birthday.

Updating Pennsylvania’s election system to offer youth preregistration would bring more young people into our elections process and ensure all voters have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.