Age and Voting Today
Today there is growing support for extending voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as a focus on engaging the youngest voters as soon as possible. In addition, there is also an increased recognition of the aging voting population as a whole, and the issues that an imbalance in age can potentially cause.
Setting the Stage
Advocates for lowering the voting age argue that younger people are fully able to understand the issues. Further, they argue that 16 is the age considered a young person’s “coming of age” in several ways: they are able to work, pay taxes, drive a car, and experience other culturally significant milestones.
On the other end of the spectrum, a growing population of voters over the age of 65 has presented other issues with the demographic profile of voters. Understanding the structural and historic advantages of older voters underscores the importance of involving young voters in the electoral process.
Pre-Registration and Minnesota
One program aimed at increasing youth turnout is pre-registration at age 16 or 17. In this plan, future voters could register before they are actually eligible to vote, so that they would be ready to vote on their 18th birthday. Because only Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington DC. Rhode Island only permits same-day registration for presidential elections programs, pre-registration would benefit people with birthdays too close to election day to be able to register in time to vote.
In Minnesota, 17 year-olds can register to vote if they will be 18 by Election Day, but that is not the case in every state. Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Steve Simon, has advocated for expanding pre-registration to 16 year-olds, too, in order to get youth engaged in the voting process early.
Minnesota passed legislation enacting same-day registration in 1974, meaning that eligible voters could both complete their registration and cast a ballot on Election Day. This process is especially helpful for first time voters, many of whom may not have pre-registered before an election. Minnesota’s same-day registration program is often cited as a key reason that the state’s turnout is one of the very best in the United States nearly every election.