A new bill brought in front of the State’s House Elections Committee wants to allow teenagers as young as 16 to enter the election process. Not to vote, but to register for when they are of age.
“Let’s make the path and really embrace the enthusiasm the young people have when they’re going to school in learning about the Democratic process,” said Rep. Betsy Coffia of Traverse City, the bill’s sponsor.
The 16-year-olds would still have to wait until they’re 18 to actually vote but Rep. Coffia and others want to lower the age for voting pre-registration from 17.5 to 16.
“Giving them the opportunity, at an age where they are old enough to legally drive, and they are starting to merge into more adult responsibilities, giving them the opportunity to pre-register while still in high school was kind of a no-brainer,” said Coffia.
Teens would register their address, their identification and can decide to vote absentee or not. Opponents say it sounds great but two full years of pre-registration is unnecessary. So much can change.
“So many young adults, they are going to college or perhaps moving out of their parents house to get on their own out of high school,” said Rep. Ann Bollin, of Brighton. “And it’s a matter of changing your address and it really makes for faulty voter rolls.”
Supporters say that tumultuous time in life is a perfect reason to get it done sooner.
“You’re busy starting trade school and joining the military, starting college, you’re moving on,” said Coffia. “This makes sure that they’ll already be locked in and ready to go and are allowed to vote in their first election.”
Rep. Bollin was the former chair of the elections committee and a township clerk for 16 years, she says the biggest issue with elections now is a cluttered qualified voter file and this just adds more waste to it.
“It all starts and stops with solid voter rolls and that’s why I’ve been fighting for voter roll audits,” said Bollin. “And making sure we aren’t mucking up the waters by allowing 16-year-olds to get on that list.”
Coffia says that was the first question they asked in the process and it was clerks themselves who brought this idea to the table.
“We have worked very closely with the Secretary of State and clerks to make sure that this made sense,” said Coffia. “And that they are welcoming that and fully prepared to integrate that.”