By Debra J. Saunders
California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced a bill to allow 15-year-olds to preregister to vote.
“I would like to engage young people in the political process at the earliest point in time. If young people get invested in the process earlier, they’ll be likelier to vote,” Jackson said Monday.
To my mind, the reason Jackson is pushing this bill is clear. She’s a Democrat. She wants to boost Democratic voter registration. What better way to find Democrats than to recruit kids before they have earned a paycheck or paid a dime in income taxes?
Not to mention: They’re not old enough to vote, not old enough to enlist in the military and years from being old enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes.
Jackson told me I’m wrong. Her Senate Bill 113 is not a means to increase Democratic ranks. Both parties will have an opportunity to earn the affiliation of new voters. SB 113 should increase the number of young adults who participate in elections.
It’s true that younger voters are underrepresented. The Public Policy Institute of California reported last year that 86 percent of adults who are 65 or older are registered; among adults younger than 25, only 54 percent are registered voters.
“We aren’t doing a very good job at registering 18-year-olds,” said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project.
OK, but it’s not as if it’s difficult to register to vote in California. You can do it at the Department of Motor Vehicles. You can fill out a form at the library. You can do it online. If young adults aren’t registering, I figure they probably don’t care enough to keep informed.
Besides, though younger people are less likely to vote, at least when they grow older and wiser they are likelier to participate.
I asked Romero why young adults don’t register. She answered, “Registering has costs to it, even online registration.” Those who don’t register often have “fewer resources.”
What does that mean? Romero answered that some adults aren’t familiar with voting. They need outreach to become invested in elections. They need someone or something to “walk them through the system.”
She added, “A fundamental element of our democracy is representation.” When too many voters are not represented, democracy suffers.
Will Gov. Jerry Brown sign the bill if it makes it to his desk? Jackson thinks Brown will because he’s a “visionary.”
I share Romero’s belief that it is not good for democracy if poor people are less likely to vote than members of the middle class. But I do not share Jackson’s belief that California should preregister 15-year-olds, at the Department of Motor Vehicles or elsewhere, to entice them to the ballot box when they’re old enough to vote.
(Besides, what if 18-year-olds think they’re registered because of SB 113 but are not on the voter rolls because they moved? “That’s part of the support that they would need,” Romero answered.)
To recap: It’s not enough that California makes it easy for citizens to register. The state needs to preregister 15-year-olds in case they don’t register when they’re old enough to vote. Then the state needs to remind 18-year-olds to make sure they’re registered to vote and to vote, because they’re old enough to vote — but not to remember.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org