Assembly Passes Kavanagh Bill Allowing Teens to Pre-Register to Vote

March 10, 2014

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh debates for the passage of his Voter Pre-Registration Bill on the Assembly floor.

New York – Legislators and voter advocates hailed the Assembly today for passing legislation allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and Senator David Carlucci, would allow teenagers to pre-register so that their registration becomes effective immediately on their 18th birthday, the legal age for voting in New York.

The legislation (A02042A/S1992-A) was approved earlier this month by the Assembly Election Law Committee, Chaired by Assemblymember Michael Cusick, and is supported by a coalition of voter advocacy organizations. It is intended to increase voter participation, especially among younger voters and should help facilitate processing of registrations by local election boards, which are often burdened with large numbers of new registrations immediately before major elections.

The issue of youth voter registration is of national concern, with only 59% of eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 registered, as compared with 71% of voters of all ages. The bill would enable New Yorkers to file their voter registration applications when they are likely to be in contact with agencies where people commonly register to vote, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition to allowing for pre-registration, the bill would require local boards of education to adopt policies to educate students about the opportunity to pre-register.

Assemblymember Kavanagh said, “This bill is a meaningful step towards our shared goals of making our democracy a little more representative and making it easier for election officials to do their jobs. New York has one of the lowest rates of voter registration in the U.S. and that’s partly because we make it more difficult to register than many states. This bill is a small but meaningful step toward remedying that. I thank my colleagues in the Assembly for passing this important legislation and look forward to working with Senator Carlucci and Governor Cuomo to enact it this session.”

Senator Carlucci said, “Our archaic voter registration system in New York needs to be brought out of the dark ages. Allowing young adults to pre-register with the Department of Motor Vehicles at 16, when they first engage government, for automatic voter enrollment at 18 is a common sense approach that will increase voter registration among young adults dramatically. I look forward to passing this legislation in the Senate.”

Assemblymember Cusick said, “Pre-registration for teenagers is a common sense step we can take to increase voter turnout and engage young New Yorkers with the democratic process. I’ve long been committed to civic engagement of young people and the Election Law Committee is always looking for ways to make elections more accessible to New Yorkers. I’m proud that we were able to move this bill through committee and that the Assembly has voted for this important election reform.”

“Allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register is a smart non-partisan reform that will help boost the diversity of our voter registration rolls and the health of our democracy. It’s a logical extension of the Motor Voter Law that will make it easier for young New Yorkers across the state to become involved in the political process. NYPIRG strongly supports this common sense legislation and urges its passage,” said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“Our democracy works best when everyone participates. We need to do much, much more to help young people develop a lifelong habit of voting and civic participation. This bill will be a great step towards ensuring our most enthusiastic voters are ready to do their part as soon as they turn 18. We can no longer delay. I call on the state legislature to pass this much-needed reform,” said Art Chang, chair of the New York City Voter Assistance Advisory Committee.

“Voting is a habit forming behavior which should be picked up early and practiced often. By making it as easy and accessible as possible we can ensure robust participation in our future democracy,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

“Our state’s youth sadly register and vote at lower rates than adults and senior citizens,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director at Citizens Union. “Enabling schools and departments of motor vehicles to pre-register 16 and 17 year-olds at the time when they are most connected with young people will hopefully raise their electoral participation. We commend the Assembly for passing on legislation championed by Assemblymember Kavanagh and Senator Carlucci aimed at encouraging young people to participate in our democracy and vote.”

“Getting young people involved early in the electoral process is key to their future voting participation. This bill is an important way to achieve that goal,” said Aimee Allaud, Elections Specialist, League of Women Voters of New York State.

“The Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY fully supports legislation for pre-registration for teenagers. This would encourage young people to become involved in the electoral process at an earlier age thus increasing the participation rates for young voters. This type of civic engagement would allow them to have their issues included on the policy agenda,” said Monica Bartley, Voting Rights Coordinator at The Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York.

“At a time when there is much voter apathy, especially in New York State, any efforts made in the direction of voter engagement and voter education should be made wherever possible. Assembly Member Kavanagh’s teen pre-registration bill A02042B does just that and we applaud his efforts,” said Helen S. Benlisa, Project HAVA Director at Catskill Center for Independence.

“Even with young voter participation at historic highs, less than half of eligible voters between 18 and 24 vote. Registration barriers play a huge role in keeping these critical voices outside the system, which hurts us all,” said Liz Kennedy, Counsel at Demos. “Studies show that voters engaged at an early age are more likely to stay involved, and we recommend pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds in our recent report Millions to the Polls: Practical Policies to Fulfill the Freedom to Vote for All Americans. New York should join the many states that already have successful pre-registration and youth engagement programs to strengthen our democracy.”

“Voter pre-registration is a common sense reform that has proven to be effective, with little to no new costs. A uniform registration age avoids confusion about when it’s legal to register and makes it easier to efficiently add young people to their rolls at schools and the DMV before they reach voting age. None of the states implementing it have encountered difficulties, yet now can increase young people’s registration,” said Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote.