New Report Highlights Opportunities to Welcome Underrepresented California Youth onto Voter Rolls

Media Releases

Report Comes as California Launches Program to Preregister 16- and 17-year-olds

CALPIRG Education Fund

Los Angeles, CA – A new report released today by the CALPIRG Education Fund, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, and Frontier Group presents the best practices California should adopt to make new preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds a success. The report, Path to the Polls: Building a More Inclusive Democracy by Preregistering California’s Youth, comes out as the state’s high school voter registration weeks are in full swing in anticipation of the upcoming deadline before the November election.

“We want all eligible and willing California youth added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday, at their current address, and armed with knowledge about how to participate in elections,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG Education Fund. “That’s a big undertaking that will require strategic outreach, education, and communication with youth across the state.” 

Fewer than 16 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-old Californians cast a ballot in the 2014 elections, and only about half even registered to vote. Among eligible youth, underrepresented population groups were the least likely to become registered voters. 

“Latinos and other youth from under-represented communities account for nearly three-fourths of California’s 16- and 17-year olds.  These youth represent the future of the Golden State’s democracy,” stated Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund executive director.  “Preregistration is an important first step towards full political participation for eligible young Californians.  We urge policymakers, election officials, educators, and youth organizations to work together to ensure that the state promotes this opportunity and makes it accessible to California’s diverse population.”  

Two state bills signed into law established preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote as soon as VoteCal, the new statewide voter database, is certified by the Secretary of State this fall. Already, voter registration forms have the option for a 16- or 17-year-old to check a box to indicate that they are signing up to pre-register to vote. Upon certification of VoteCal, the California online voter registration form will also include preregistration.

“Preregistration is a proven way to get more youth participating in our democracy,” said Alana Miller, policy analyst at Frontier Group. “Research shows that allowing 16- and 17-year olds to preregister to vote increases the likelihood that they will cast their ballots in subsequent elections.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • The state should implement practices that will make voter preregistration accessible to 16- and 17-year-olds. This includes providing voter registration in the places 16- and 17-year-olds commonly go—from the DMV to high schools and GED programs. Opportunities to preregister should also be included in the changes happening at the DMV, as well as in less traditional venues like juvenile detention facilities.  Preregistration should also be as digital friendly as possible.
  • The state should work with schools to improve the voter education curriculum. The California State Board of Education should closely monitor the implementation of the California Department of Education’s History- Social Science Framework for curriculum, which was released in July 2016, to ensure that the opportunity for preregistration and voter registration are incorporated into classroom discussions of civic participation, including “Principles of American Democracy,” taught in grade 12. The Secretary of State’s office should incorporate preregistration into annual High School Voter Education Weeks and encourage more schools to participate in the MyVote California Student Mock Election.
  • California should develop preregistration strategies that protect the privacy of non-eligible students, yet still provide ways for all students to become civically engaged. If schools decide to conduct preregistration activities within the classroom setting, it is critical that school administrators develop strategies to handle sensitive immigration status issues that protect the privacy of students who are not eligible to preregister.
  • The state should also take follow-up steps to increase the likelihood that preregistered voters will vote in the first election in which they are eligible to participate. This includes making sure confirmation letters provide clear and simple instructions for maintaining their voter registration records and receiving follow-up texts and emails from officials at least three times.
  • All preregistration outreach and education efforts should be undertaken in a manner that recognizes the full diversity of California’s youth population. For example, the staff of schools or community programs that promote preregistration should reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the youth the programs are trying to engage.
  • California should keep data on preregistration outcomes to help policymakers understand how well programs are working and which teens are not being reached. Data should be publicly available and include preregistration rates by age, sex, race and ethnicity.