Gov. Pat McCrory signed a sweeping elections overhaul bill on Aug. 12, and on Sept. 1 one of the first provisions of that new law will go into effect. Beginning on that day, 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be allowed to pre-register to vote. North Carolina implemented voter pre-registration in 2010 after being passed by the General Assembly with broad, bipartisan support. Through the program, 16- and 17-year-olds could “pre-register” to vote, which didn’t lower the voting age but meant these young people would be automatically added to the voter rolls when they turned 18. Since many teens are going to the DMV to get a driver’s license during this time, it was convenient to offer them the opportunity to pre-register to vote as well. Students are also being taught civics in high school at this age, which seemed like an appropriate time to translate the abstracts of lesson plans into a real-world activity like pre-registering to vote. In the end, the goal was to encourage teens to get involved in the voting process at an early age and hopefully instill in them an interest and passion for civic engagement.
Unfortunately, voter pre-registration is eliminated by the new law and teens will no longer be able to take advantage of this innovative program. However, people who have pre-registered before September will still have their pre-registration processed as in the past and will be added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday.
Since its implementation in 2010, the pre-registration program has been successful at engaging young people in the political process. More than 150,000 future voters have taken advantage of pre-registration, with the majority of those registering as independents instead of choosing to align with any political party. If nothing else, these figures could portend interesting changes to our two-party system in the future.