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Voting advocates decry end of pre-registration

North Carolina implemented pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-old eligible voters in 2010. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans, overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 102-4.

Jenn Frye, associate director of Democracy NC, a nonpartisan voter advocacy group, said the bill’s intention was to increase voter participation among young people and to educate them about the voting process.

“The thinking was this is a good time to sign them up as future voters,” Frye said.

Since the law went into effect, more than 100,000 teenagers have pre-registered, she said.

The bill established that when pre-registered teenagers became old enough to register, they’ll be automatically registered to vote. It required local boards of elections to assist registration in schools.

In the 2012 general election, 63,000 young voters were automatically registered.

Pre-registration was used as a teaching tool in schools to inform students about the civic process, said Amy Farrell, executive director of GenerationNation, an organization that runs the Kids Voting program in Charlotte.

“It was a tangible way for them to learn about government,” she said. “They learn about (voting) in school, but that was their first chance to do something official. They were very excited about it.”

Sarah Kerman, 16, pre-registered to vote last fall at North Mecklenburg High School. The Latin American Coalition hosted a table in the cafeteria at her school to encourage students to register.

“I thought it was a good way for young people to start focusing on some of these issues you have to learn about to fulfill our responsibility as voters,” she said. “It’s a good way to get more youth ready for voting.”

Frye said she’s uncertain why the General Assembly voted to remove pre-registration.

“It’s hard to understand right now what the fear is about young people voting,” she said. “I don’t see any connection between pre-registration and security at the ballot box. If anything, it would make our election process more robust.”

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