"Lower voter participation is a silent threat to our democracy...It under-represents young people, the poor, the disabled, those with little education, minorities and you and me." Nancy Neuman
The New York State Constitution sets the age of voting and requirements to registration, but does not bar pre-registration or other laws that can be used to encourage youth in civic engagement.
In New York, youth voter and civic participation is low, especially among low-income and marginalized youth. Research shows bipartisan legislation at minimal costs, narrows this civic gap by improving youth civic education, voter participation, and high school academic achievement. So, the purpose of this memo is to mobilize support for youth civic engagement legislation sponsored in the New York State Legislature.
Key Provisions include:
- Allowing 16 & 17 year olds to pre-register to vote in New York, becoming automatic at 18 years old.
- Lowering the age of full participation at community boards & as poll workers to 16 years old.
- Increasing civic education instruction in high schools and expands online voter registration.
- Allowing youth to register to vote while applying for fishing and hunting licenses.
- Full-time College Students as Poll Workers
- Research shows pre-registration increases youth voter registration & turnout.
- Voting and political participation are habitual; it’s very hard to get adults to start participating later.
- Quality civic educational experiences strongly correlate with active citizenship.
- Youth voter turnout was 20% higher for those who had been taught & encouraged to register to vote while in high school.
Youth civic engagement improves academic achievement:
- Increases likelihood of high school graduation & attending college.
- Provides educators with free tools to make learning experiences current, practical and interactive.
- Reforms are universal, applying equally in both low-income and affluent school districts.
Costs are low, while actually saving money for New York taxpayers:
- Online voter registration shown to save money in other states by costing less than traditional methods of voter registration. Gov. Cuomo’s office states that over $400,000 annually can be saved in New York.
- Pre-registration requires no new software or voter registration forms.
- Gov. Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission recently cited that an increase in male high school graduation rate in New York by merely 10% would save the state more than $900 million per year!
Has bipartisan support:
- Senate Republicans sponsor several of these youth civic engagement bills (Lanza & Ball).
- Florida and North Carolina enacted youth voter preregistration laws with bipartisan sponsorship.
- In North Carolina, a state won in 2012 by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the percentage of youth have preregistering as Republicans or Democrats are equal, with most registering as Independents.
- Improves civic attitudes of youth via full community board participation on issues of their choice.
- Youth will gain hands on civic experience while working alongside adults as valued stakeholders.
- Broadens current civic education with new active and practical civic skills and knowledge.
- Also improves civic attitudes of 16 & 17 year old youth not found in public or private high schools: Youth in juvenile justice facilities, home schools, or simply residing & working in communities.
Section 1. Every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people and upon all questions submitted to the vote of the people provided that such citizen is eighteen years of age ...
§5. Laws shall be made for ... the registration of voters ...
A uniform voter registration age often does not exist.
- In some states, all 17-year-olds and some 16-year-olds can register. In other states, some 17-year-olds and no 16-year-olds can register. In many states it changes year to year based on the date of the next election.
- The lack of uniformity creates confusion and makes it harder to run effective voter registration and education programs in schools and at the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Lowering the advance-registration age does NOT change the voting age.
- The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets the voting age at 18-years-old.
- Local and state jurisdictions can lower the voting age if they so choose, but it is a separate question from voter registration.