OLYMPIA – One of the most popular ways to register to vote is to sign up when applying for a driver’s license. Unless you’re 16 or 17, the time when most drivers get their first license but are too young to vote.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, thinks the state should help those young drivers and all 16- and 17-year-olds become good voters by letting them “pre-register” to vote so they’ll automatically be added to the rolls when they turn 18.
While there are plenty of ways for those citizens to register once they are eligible, “that doesn’t mean we should prevent them from having access to the most popular method,” Billig said during a hearing of his proposal at the House State Government Committee.
A separate bill, which he also supports, would allow all citizens to register and vote on Election Day. That would be particularly helpful to college students who often are caught up in moving and registering for classes in the months before elections, representatives of different student groups said.
But elections officials and some Republicans are skeptical. County auditors said the preregistration bill would require them to keep a list of people who aren’t yet eligible – but will be at some future date – separate from the voter registration rolls. They’d be notifying those young voters just about the same time many would be leaving home, and their listed address, for school or a job and possibly trying to register somewhere else.
Billig called the need for separate lists an “operational problem” that could be worked out with elections officials’ help. Although 18-year-olds are among the most likely to move, 16- and 17-year-olds are relatively stable, he said.
Preregistration could set up expectations that could be frustrating, state Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said. They’d be registering to drive right away, but to vote at some point in the future.