By Steve Simon
Spring is now upon us, and that means it’s time for some spring cleaning. It’s a good habit that many of us practice. Spring is also the time Minnesota legislators make decisions about our future. So it’s a good time to talk about good habits.
We have a great opportunity this year in Minnesota to increase civic participation among young people and instill in the next generation of Minnesotans the values that have made our state a role model for the nation. The Minnesota Legislature currently is considering a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to preregister to vote. Then, when they turn 18, they’d automatically be registered.
It’s about getting good habits started early and encouraging young people to think of themselves as both civically engaged and as voters before they turn 18.
Seems promising, right? It is, and I strongly urge the Minnesota Legislature to pass preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Young Minnesotans are leading the charge on this issue at the Capitol and have put together a broad coalition with bipartisan support, including Republican and Democratic bill authors, as well as faith and labor communities.
Almost half the states already allow some form of preregistration for high school-aged students — states with diverse political leanings and backgrounds.
Studies have shown that in states like Florida and Hawaii, preregistration’s effectiveness is widespread among “Republicans and Democrats, whites and minorities, and men and women.” as one study stated.
Preregistration has increased voter turnout anywhere from 8 percent to 13 percent.
Perhaps most importantly, the proposal would give communities and schools the opportunity to work together to put in place the necessary structure for preregistering: the ability to preregister to vote in a high school civics class, for example, so when young Minnesotans turn 18 they’re automatically registered and ready to be active participants in their community.
As with any piece of legislation, there are always a few questions.
Would 16- and 17-year-olds be able to vote? No, not until they’re 18 like everyone else. Preregistration simply helps young people get good habits started early. And those who do preregister to vote at 16 and 17 would, of course, be subject to the same security checks as if they submitted their application to register after their 18th birthday.
Will 16- and 17-year-olds appear on voter rolls or other public information lists? No, not until they turned 18.
What happens when they move away to college? There are easy checks already in place to update voter registration.
Preregistration just makes common sense, and the Legislature should pass it so Minnesota can continue to be a role model and lead the nation in voter turnout.
As a father, I want my children to have the opportunity to get involved in their communities. Preregistration is big step in that direction.
But this is a decision your legislators have to make.
I urge you, if you are a parent, student or teacher, or if you simply care about Minnesota’s next generation, to contact your local legislators and ask them to support preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The state Legislature is back from spring break and will be making a lot of big decisions between now and the end of the session in May. Let’s make this a decision Minnesota can be proud of — and then let’s clean those windows before it’s too late.
Steve Simon is Minnesota’s secretary of state. He wrote this for the News Tribune.