July 22, 2004- Introductory Statement, the "Gateway to Democracy Act"

"Mr Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Gateway to Democracy Act, a bill designed to increase young voter registration and participation. As we enter another presidential election season we are once again reminded that in order for our democracy to function properly, people need to exercise their right to vote. Unfortunately, young people consistently fail to turn out to the polls on voting day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 2000 general election only 45.4% of 18 to 24 year olds were registered to vote and only 32.3% voted. The statistics for the 1998 general election were even more dismal, as 39.2% of such individuals were registered and a mere 16.6% actually went to the polls."

"Studies have shown that people establish their voting behavior early in life. People who start voting between the ages of 18-24 are more likely to consistently participate in the election process for the rest of their lives. Thus it is in the best interest of the country to
make it as easy as possible for the youth of our nation to go to the polls for the first time. Young adults often fail to turn out on Election Day simply because they are not registered to vote. Most states require registration prior to the election itself, so that it is too late to establish voter eligibility on Election Day. The Gateway to Democracy Act seeks to increase the number of young people who are eligible to vote as soon as they reach voting age.

In 1993, we passed The National Voter Registration Act so that people could register to vote when they applied for their motor vehicle driver’s licenses. This law has increased voter registration and according to studies appears to increase youth voting. However, many states allow individuals to get their licenses years before they meet the age requirement for registration, but few states allow registration at that time if the person is not eighteen years old. Since 53.7% of seventeen year olds already had their motor vehicle licenses in 2002, we missed a valuable opportunity to register more than half of the people in that age group.

The Gateway to Democracy is a very simple idea. If you’re 18 or older and you apply for a driver’s license, you can also register to vote. But in most states, if you are under 18, you do not have the same opportunity to register to vote at the same time that you apply for a drivers license. Thus, a 16 or 17 year old typically must make a second trip to register after that person reaches the eligible age to vote. Often these young people don’t bother to make this second trip until it is too late for them to participate in the first election for which they are eligible. This bill will allow people who are too young to vote to fill out all the paperwork necessary to register to vote when they get their drivers license. However, they won’t be eligible to go to the polls until they reach the legal minimum voting age.

Some states already have successful pre-registration programs. For example, Connecticut, Florida and Maine allow people to pre-register to vote at age 17, Georgia, Missouri, and Iowa allow people to pre-register at age 17 and a half and Hawaii allows people to preregister at age 16. These programs prove that pre-registration programs are simple and effective.

The Gateway to Democracy is a commonsense solution to the problem of getting young people registered in time for their first election. It allows young people to take care of the paperwork ahead of time so that they don’t have anything standing in their way on Election Day."