This is what happens when politics and ideology overrule common sense. In their zeal to reform the voting system in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers pushed through a change that has created confusion, more work and wasted money.
That change was to end preregistration of teens so once they reached voting age, they would automatically be registered to vote. And they could do so at state drivers license offices which would make it a one-stop convenience for newly licensed young drivers.
Not surprisingly, it was an effective voter registration move. More than 150,000 young people preregistered from the time the program went into effect in 2010 to September 2013. By the way, the policy was adopted in 2009 with bipartisan legislative support.
But last year, lawmakers made sweeping changes to N.C. voter laws in the state, and one was the nonsensical idea of ending preregistration of teen voters. Now, officials of the state Department of Motor Vehicles and of the N.C. elections board are saying that the change has created confusion and more work.
Thats because DMV officials had trouble figuring out at what age applicants should be allowed to register to vote. Some 17-year-olds are eligible to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 when the general election is held. Counties and municipalities can have general elections in off years that fall on different dates in each location. DMV officials could not set one formula in the database for determining which 17-year-olds should get a voter registration application.
As a result, state elections officials decided last November that voter registration applications could be given only to individuals 18 and older.
Last week, with a court hearing set today for a federal judge to consider whether to block election law changes, elections officials had a change of heart. Kim Strach, elections board supervisor, said the state will begin offering voter registration services to all 17-year-olds. If they are not 18 by Nov. 4, the elections board will reject the application and send the teen a certified letter.
We had hoped to spare counties much of this extra work by exploring ways to screen for eligibility on a systems level at DMV, Strach said in a June 30 memo. Municipal elections and other factors rendered that solution unworkable.
The state legislature could have spared counties the extra work, and expense, by not enacting such a change. The only possible reason for it was an attempt to limit the voting participation of young people who have voted disproportionately for Democrats in recent election cycles.
But the breakdown of preregistered teens in 2012 is instructive. Of the 55,291 teens who preregistered, 41 percent chose to do so as unaffiliated. Thirty-three percent preregistered as Democrats and 25 percent as Republicans. Given that, either party has a shot at capturing the new young voters support at the ballot box.
We hope these and other voting changes will be suspended until challenges are resolved. But lawmakers should reinstate teen voter preregistration regardless.
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