California Teen Voter Pre-registration Lags

High school students in California can pre-register to vote when they are 16 or 17 years old.  Students who pre-register are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18.

But according to a new analysis released today by The Civics Center, as of February 2019, only 14% of 16- and 17-year olds in the state are pre-registered to vote.  The Civics Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes voter registration, pre-registration and civic engagement in high schools.  

The numbers show a modest increase over pre-registration numbers released in October 2018.  Then, only 13% of California 16- and 17-year olds were pre-registered.

Sacramento showed the largest percentage increase since October 2018, going from 12% to 17%, while the percentage of young people pre-registered in Santa Barbara County decreased from 16% to 13%.  Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the state, has the highest number of pre-registered students (33,003 as of February 10, 2019, compared with 29,592 in October 2018).

In two other Western states with voter pre-registration, the rate is more than twice what it is in California: approximately 30% of 16- and 17- year olds are registered in Oregon and Colorado.  

“While we are seeing improvement in California, we still have a long way to go to get young people pre-registered to vote,” said Laura W. Brill, founder and director of The Civics Center. She is also a practicing attorney and a former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Pre-registering teens is vital to getting young people to vote and ensuring they have a say in the decisions their elected leaders are making. Parents, school leadership and the teens themselves can all help improve pre-registration rates and ensure more young people are engaged in civic life.”

The Civics Center offers resources to high schools to promote voter registration, especially when those are led by the students themselves. It also encourages schools to help students appreciate the importance of citizenship by providing a structure for student-led voter registration efforts, including scheduling, training and oversight. In addition, it urges students to take a leading role by starting clubs that promote peer-to-peer registration.

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