Teenagers as young as 16 would be allowed to pre-register to vote as they get their drivers licenses under a House bill heard by a Senate committee Thursday.
Image by Department of Licensing
Several high school students told a the Senate Governmental Operations committee to pass HB 1279, which extends the Motor Voter law, which allows for citizens to register to vote when they go to the Department of Licensing, to 16-year-olds getting their first driver licenses.
Under the bill, 16- and 17-year-old citizens could pre-register to vote, so they are registered when they turn 18.
Isabella Fuentes, a student at Ingraham High School, says getting a license to drive is a rite of passage, and this bill could do the same for voting.
“As a 16-year-old I know how big of a deal getting your drivers license is. Many of my friends would do whatever it took to be at the Department of Licensing on their 16th birthday, even if it meant skipping school,” she said. She said the bill “would foster voting habits early on and create a new generation of lifelong voters.”
Erasmus Baxter of Garfield High School told the committee many young people intend to register, but don’t do it until they are asked.
“To ask people to register to vote is so important,” he said. “To incorporate somewhere where everyone goes, to get a driver’s license, is something that can make sure lots of people who aren’t registered today are registered to vote.”
The House passed the bill last month with a vote of 54 to 42 along mostly partisan lines. The chamber rejected amendments would have required proof of citizenship and verification of an address before the county sends a ballot.
If the bill passed, Washington would join six states and the District of Columbia, which have similar laws for citizens as young as 16.
Chanel Rhymes, a student at The Evergreen State College, told the committee the change would catch the 18- to 20-year-olds, who often don’t get registered to vote.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Bergquist (D-Renton) is said pre-registration could have side benefits.
“Can you imagine how much more engaged the student might be if they knew that they were already pre-registered to vote. And it just seems more realistic to them that, ‘Hey I’m part of the process and I will have a vote very soon.’ ”
You can watch the hearing in TVW’s archives.