State officials, high school students and advocates for new voting laws in Massachusetts urged the state Election Laws Committee to consider a bill that would change the landscape of voter registration for teenagers under the age of 18, yesterday at the State House.
As part of the Massachusetts Freedom to Vote Act, the proposed measure would allow a 16 1/2-year-old to pre-register to vote when they apply for a driving permit at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, so that when they turn 18, their registration will automatically kick in.
“This is an easy, no cost, common sense bill” said State Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), at a press conference before the hearing this week.
Story, who is lead sponsor for the bill, said she has had this proposal on her desk for a couple of years, and believes this is the right time to get it passed.
“The legislature is looking for things to do between now and Nov. 18, when we recess, that are good government bills and that don’t cost money” Story said after her testimony to the Committee. “This doesn’t cost anything.”
Story said a person under the age of 18 should have the opportunity to pre-register, because young people at that age are starting to form their own opinions, and she said voting at a young age would lead to a lifetime of responsible voters.
“Voting is addictive” said Story, who said the bill did not make it far last year but has heard no opposition from anyone. “If you start voting, you will never stop.”
In a study by Common Cause, the government watchdog found that only 50 percent of 18-year-olds are registered to vote in the US, and in the 2008 elections only 59 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 were registered to vote.
The bill has already been implemented in 10 states around the country, including Connecticut and Maine.
The new bill would not change the voting age to 16, since 18 is the legal age to vote as stated in the US Constitution, but the bill might make it easier for 18-year-olds to vote.
“I’m a junior, and if I could just register to vote now it would make things that much easier because things are going to be hectic with college,” said said Donovan Birch, a junior at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, who testified to the committee. “The first half of my year will be applying to college, then getting ready for it, then I have to fulfill all my requirement for my senior year.”
Birch, a member of Young Civic Leaders, a program sponsored by MassVote, a voters’ rights organization, designed to build leaders in the community, said this new bill would make it easier because senior year of high school can be a very busy time.
“Even though I’ll be 18, registering to vote isn’t going to be the first thing on my mind.”
Rep. Michael J. Moran, chair of the Election Laws Committee, was impressed by Birch’s testimony.
“We need more kids like you getting active” said Moran, who jokingly told the group of 10 to 15 high school students that he tried to get them a half-day of school. “I know it can be very boring, but very important stuff goes on in here, and I appreciate you all coming.”
Avi Green, executive director of MassVote, said it was important for the high school students to voice their opinion to the Committee.
“It’s critical” said Green, who, along with MassVote, sponsored the press conference before the hearing. “Everyone’s always saying “ËœThis is good for high school students or that is good for high school students or this is good for youth’ but I think youth can speak for themselves.
“I think Donovan was just as impressive as the adults that I heard, and I really hope that bill passes.”
Green is also an advocate for the other major proposed bills in The Mass Freedom to Vote Act. Including, Election Day registration, which would allow voters to register on the day of elections providing they have proof of residence and ID, and early voting, which would give voters a week in advance to vote in case they were not available on Election Day.
No vote was made on the bill, and Green said he hoped the Committee to act sooner rather than later.