Bill killed that would have allowed 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote in Colorado

Republicans voted on a party line, 5-4, Thursday to kill HB 1096, a bill which would have allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and have their voter status activated when they reach the age of 18.

Hawaii, California and Rhode Island already have such laws on the books, supporters said. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Boulder, was voted to be postponed indefinitely.

Gardner said the bill is dead this year, but that she hopes to bring an improved bill to the Legislature next session.

“I’m not sure it was a strictly partisan vote,” she told The Colorado Independent. “A couple of the representatives in the committee had talked to their county clerks, who had some concerns as to whether the bill would create more paperwork or add expenses to managing the voter rolls.

“For those people, I think it was easier to just vote no.”

Gardner said she did not think the bill would be hard or expensive to administer but that next year she will work with county clerks in advance of introducing the bill in order to address those concerns.

Representative Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, chairman of the committee, did not return a call seeking comment.

“I think it is important to engage young people,” Gardner said. She said 18-24 year-olds are underrepresented in voter registrations and that it is important to reach out to them.

“We’ve seen this policy have a big impact in increasing civic engagement among young people in other states,” said Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado. “It’s a shame that Colorado isn’t willing to take these critical steps towards increasing youth participation in our democracy as well.”

New Era Colorado is a non-partisan, non-profit organization which was formed in 2006 to get young people more excited about politics and voting.

New Era Director of Communications Shad Murib said the group organizes parties and other events to make politics more fun. They own an old Greyhound bus that they use to take people to events, for instance.

“We filled the bus with people and went to a bar to watch the State of the Union speech. We want to make it fun for young people.” He said a typical event will be attended by a few hundred people. Altogether, he said the group has probably had about 12,000 people attend various events over the years, and has registered more than 25,000 to vote.

He said a study conducted in Florida and Hawaii has shown that pre-registration policies can have significant impacts on the number of young people that turn out during elections and that people who pre-register are more likely to vote.

“We can create a better nation by getting the kids involved, even if that means just one kid at a time,” said Angela Abraham, 9th grader at Thornton High School. “Technically, 18 year-olds are adults and pre-registration at 16 gives us the feeling of one and a feeling that we can do something for our country.”

“It’s about time that we take the steps to engage the citizens of our state at a young age in order to instill in them the bedrock principle of our democracy – the ability to vote,” said Murib. “Young people are increasingly participating in their government and our policies should reflect that.”

Rich Coolidge, spokesperson for Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Gessler had been opposed to the bill.

He said Gessler is in favor of expanding the number of 18-24 year-olds who vote but doesn’t think legislation like this will get that done.

“If you register when you are 16, then sit around for two years before you can vote, you’re going to lose interest. Programs like this only work if they are accompanied by a big push for civic engagement,” Coolidge said.

He said that in Colorado 17-year-olds can already pre-register if they will turn 18 before the next election.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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