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Originally published April 2, 2013 at 4:36 PM | Page modified April 2, 2013 at 4:36 PM

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Editorial: Allow teens to preregister to vote when they get their driver’s licenses

The Legislature should continue to explore the option of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote at the same time they get their driver’s licenses.

Seattle Times Editorial

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A STATE Senate committee’s failure to schedule a vote by Wednesday’s cutoff on a motor-voter bill is disappointing, but work must continue on ways to increase voter participation among Washington’s young adults.

Backed by the House before it died in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, House Bill 1279 proposed allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote at the same time they get their driver’s licenses. When they reach legal voting age, they would automatically be registered to participate in elections.

Toby Crittenden, executive director of the Washington Bus, a nonpartisan advocacy group for young adults, says allowing teens to prepare for citizenship duties earlier would breathe life into civic lessons they are learning in school.

Eight other states offer the motor-voter option to minors shortly before their 18th birthday.

In the swing state of Florida, studies show preregistration among 17-year-olds increased from 30,000 in 2000 to 78,000 in 2008, with the help of school outreach programs.

Here in Washington, there are 3.9 million active registered voters. The Secretary of State’s Office reports the median voter is between the ages of 45 and 54.

Lowering that range is within reach.

Since 1993, the Department of Licensing has asked adults whether they want to sign up to vote when they apply for their driver’s licenses. It’s one of the most consistent, effective tools in our state’s civic toolbox. About 40 percent of all voter registrations in Washington come from licensing offices.

Studies show those exposed to voting from an early age are more likely to stay engaged for the rest of their lives.

During a March 26 committee hearing on HB 1279, Government Operations Chairwoman Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said parents have the option of putting up yard signs that can pique a child’s interest. Her son went on to run for office.

That’s a nice story, but don’t forget that old political saying: “Lawn signs don’t vote.”

Combining two rites of passage — driving and voting — is a pragmatic approach to cultivating active citizenship.

Legislators should resurrect HB 1279 next year.

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