Capitol Alert

High school students can pre-register to vote. This woman is making sure they do

California still working on getting young voters to cast ballots

Before the 2016 election, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla spoke about voter registration during an address at Woodland Community College on Sept. 19, 2016
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Before the 2016 election, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla spoke about voter registration during an address at Woodland Community College on Sept. 19, 2016

More than 200,000 California 16- and 17-year-olds have “pre-registered” to vote in the last two years, 100,000 of them in the past five months.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released the numbers Tuesday, touting the effort across the state after lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown approved a bill allowing pre-registration in 2014. “These young people represent the next generation of active, informed, and engaged voters,” Padilla said.

The move to engage younger people to become voters has swept the nation in recent years — in both Democratic- and Republican-leaning states.

An estimated 50 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 turned up to the polls in 2016, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

This November, Los Angeles-based attorney Laura W. Brill hopes to make that percentage even higher. To that end, her organization — The Civics Center — is working with California schools to pre-register as many 16- and 17-year-olds as possible to vote once they turn 18.

“Like most people, I was troubled by a lot of the political discourse and challenges to democracy since the 2016 elections,” Brill said in an interview. “And I really wanted to do something more than complain about it.”

Sun-Star reader MaryAnn Gentry created a video that will lead Merced County residents through the steps of registering to vote.

California is one of 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allows minors to register to vote beginning at 16, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another four states allow pre-registration at 17.

Padilla’s announcement Tuesday coincided with National Voter Registration Day, a nationwide effort to increase voter enrollment.

A plurality of those pre-registered, 47 percent, did so under no party affiliation, according to Padilla’s office. Another 34 percent pre-registered as Democrat and 10 percent as Republican.

​Jill Lavine, registrar of voters in Sacramento County, demonstrates a new digital voting system at the Sacramento County Department of Voter Registration and Elections on Monday, March 5, 2018 in Sacramento.

Though she does “a fair amount of election-related law,” Brill said she was surprised to learn that teens could pre-register to vote. Brown signed the bill allowing it in 2014, but the statewide voter registration database wasn’t certified to receive pre-registrations until fall 2016.

“And I thought, if I’ve never heard of pre-registration, then I bet other people haven’t heard of it,” she said.

That included many of her fellow attorneys, but also teachers and principals, she said.

​In light of the U.S. Supreme Court case on the legality of Ohio's process for removing voters from the registration rolls, what is the process in California?

So Brill began reaching out to school districts across the state. She said there are about 1,700 high schools in California, and only around 260 of them were in compliance with a state law requiring the school keep somebody on staff in charge of distributing voter registration materials to students.

Many school officials didn’t even know the law existed, she said, including in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the United States.

Brill, through her group The Civics Center, works to change that.

“In addition to LAUSD, we’ve gotten hundreds of schools to comply with the law,” she said.

Her group has also trained more than 100 people to register people to vote in California.

Pre-registration works exactly like registration, apart from checking a different box on the form, Brill said. Once a teen is pre-registered, they are automatically added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday.

Brill said it’s critical for young people to engage in the civic process by voting.

“It’s their future that’s at stake,” she said.

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Often, Brill said, the people who are most effective at getting young people to vote are other young people.

“We’ve seen really incredible results from student-run efforts,” she said. “There’s nothing that takes the place of peer-to-peer involvement.”

Today, 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote either using a paper form or by visiting RegisterToVote.ca.gov.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler

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