Politicians never hesitate to court the young vote and there have been countless voter registration drives across the nation during each election cycle. Lawmakers in the Diamond State have joined a growing list of states in taking it one step further in the midst of this off-year election cycle.


Politicians never hesitate to court the young vote and there have been countless voter registration drives across the nation during each election cycle.

Lawmakers in Delaware have joined a growing list of states in taking it one step further in the midst of this off-year election cycle.

Why not allow teenagers to pre-register to vote when they pass driver’s education and head to the DMV for that coveted license?

Surrounded by students, Gov. Jack A. Markell signed legislation that does just that during a visit to a William Penn High School driver’s education class Wednesday, Sept. 8. With the stroke of a pen, Delaware becomes the sixth state to pass such legislation.

House Bill 381 allows 16-year-olds who are applying for their driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicle to also pre-register to vote.

However, the new law will not change age requirements for voting. Individuals must be 18 to vote in a general election, but can vote in a primary as long as they will turn 18 before the general election.

The law is another tool for young people who do already do a great job making themselves heard to their elected officials, Markell said.

“Any given week, people under 18 make their perspectives clear with calls, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts – even the occasional letter,” he said. “But the most powerful statement one can make about the direction of their government is at the polls and by registering to vote.

“This law says to Delaware’s youth that when you accept the responsibility to join our roadways as a driver, seize the chance to join the public debate as a future voter.

This new law made sense because teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood, as signified by the privilege of driving, said Longhurst, whose daughter turned 16 this year and whose son is 12.

“They are starting to drive, getting after-school jobs and planning for their future after high school,” she said. “We’re engaging them at an early age and encouraging them to be informed and involved in the electoral process before they turn 18 so that when they’re able to vote, they will.”

When teenagers pre-register, they will indicate whether they plan to be affiliated with one of the major parties or as an independent, House Majority Caucus Communications Director Drew Volturo said.

If they change their mind within the two years leading up to voting privileges, they would simply go to DMV and change their registration.

They just need to be aware of registration deadlines that loom before each primary and general election, he added.

More than 26,800 16- and 17-year-olds applied for their driver’s license from 2007 to 20009, according to the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles. During the same three-year period, the state Department of Elections reported that about 14,000 18-year-olds registered to vote.

Once a teen gets their driver’s license, there is no need for them to return to the DMV for a new one until they turn 21, Longhurst said. The legislation would eliminate the need for a separate trip to register to vote when they turn 18.

According to FairVote, a national group focused on increasing voter participation, five other states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar legislation allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register, including Maryland. Additionally, California and Oregon have adopted a 17-year-old pre-registration age.