Identifying and implementing measures to increase youth participation is a critical factor in measuring a healthy democracy, as young voters significantly underperform compared with the overall voting age population. According to FairVote, while 71 percent of all eligible voters are registered to vote, only 59 percent of eligible young voters ages 18 to 24 are registered. Preregistration allows 16- and/or 17-year-olds to complete an early registration form and be automatically added to the voting rolls when they reach voting age. Allowing young people to preregister to vote—particularly when many will be interacting with their state’s department of motor vehicles to apply for a driver’s license—eases barriers to registration. And when young voters are registered, they vote: In 2008, 83 percent of registered young voters cast ballots. A separate Duke University analysis found that implementing preregistration increases young voter turnout by 8 to 13 percentage points across demographic variables such as gender, race, and political party.

While several states, including California, Massachusetts, and Louisiana, have taken steps to expand preregistration, North Carolina eliminated its preregistration program as part of a package of voter restrictions in advance of the 2014 election. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia offer preregistration to 16- and 17-year-olds, while 27 states do not.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. Current Policy in State
    Points added to score
  2. State has passed a law allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote
    0 points
  3. State has not passed a pre-registration law, or has set the threshold for pre-registration after age 17
    10 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Provide preregistration to 16- and 17-year-olds

Young, potential voters are notoriously hard to reach. Preregistration takes advantage of the intersection of high school civics courses and interactions with states’ Motor Vehicles Departments when applying for a driver’s license to not only reach them but to register them as well. For states serious about increasing youth civic participation, preregistration is a crucial step.

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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