Don't veto the vote

// Published April 8, 2009 in The Brown Daily Herald

The Brown Daily Herald endorses pre-registration.

Shouldn't young people be more engaged in government and politics? The Rhode Island General Assembly seems to think so. Both the Senate and the House recently passed a bill which would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote in the first election held after they turn 18. This measure, advocated for by the nonprofit group FairVote RI, is intended to increase youth connection to government and simplify the voter registration process, according to their Web site.

However, similar measures also passed in 2007 and 2008, and both bills were vetoed by Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, who cited voter fraud concerns as the reason. While the government should always be vigilant about fraud - especially in this little state with its long history of corruption - we believe that keeping this bill from becoming law does little to maintain such vigilance. We can only hope that Carcieri's concerns are not political - though younger voters tend not to favor the Republican party, surely the governor can agree that motivating young people to engage with government and public service can only be a good thing.

The governor should allow this bill to become law - research has shown that the younger people are when they start to vote, the more likely they are to vote consistently over the course of their lifetime, so there is a chance that this bill will increase voter turnout overall in the long run. Additionally, voters registered under the new law would be subject to the same regulations as of-age voters. If the governor is so concerned about voter fraud, he should be advocating for a bill to tighten registration security for all voters, not just young people. Though Carcieri loves the power of the veto, he should really save his ink on this one.

In fact, the stipulations of this bill are not a far cry from where the law currently stands. Right now, a 17-year old can register to vote if he or she is going to be 18 by the next election. This begs the question of whether the bill's sponsors, and FairVote RI, are going far enough.

If we care about increasing the number of young people who participate in our democracy, who care about the outcomes of elections and who follow the activities of government, we should be having a serious statewide and national discussion about lowering the voting age. It may not turn out to be the right answer, but it's worth considering.

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