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House bill would increase number of young voters

Fill gap between right to vote and privilege to drive


Oregon has some of the most accessible voting in the United States. We have voter pre-registration for 17-year-olds, ballots we receive in the mail and suffrage in state and local elections for felons. Other states can learn from our example. However, the job of improving Oregonians’ voter access is not over yet, and as the work continues, it’ll be a huge benefit to my fellow high school students.

I registered to vote shortly after my 17th birthday, but to make the process easier, it would have been nice to have registered when I was 16, at the same time I was applying for my driver’s permit. It would have saved time and it would have saved gasoline. My interest in politics would have accelerated even faster because I would have a direct investment in the system, not just a general interest.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - ELISE BROWN

Twenty-thousand 16-year-olds apply for their driver’s licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles every year. Those are a lot of voters whose attention can be caught early, quickly and easily by having young people like me register early.

That is where House Bill 2988, sponsored by Rep. Ben Unger, D-Cornelius, comes in. Spearheaded by organizations such as the Oregon Bus Project and the West Linn High School Lobby Club, it would allow 16-year-olds to register to vote. Recently, the rules committee sent its recommendation to the Oregon House: Pass the bill. And I wholeheartedly agree. The students deserve it, and our whole state, politicians and citizens, will benefit from the larger electorate.

HB 2988 fills the accessibility gap that exists between the right to vote and the privilege to drive. About 700,000 people in the state of Oregon are eligible to vote, but are unregistered. If we can register to vote at the same time we receive our licenses, that number can get smaller. Our state can move even further in making the process of becoming an engaged voter as quick and easy as possible. Besides, high school civics students would have more of an incentive to pay attention and learn because they would be directly involved in the system.

Even for students who are not quite as politically engaged as I am, it would push more young people — people who will make up quite a large portion of the electorate one day — to think early about political decisions.

Our Legislature must support HB 2988. Think of all the people who will have a newfound voice in the process and will have an incentive to make their voices informed and heard, because of our representatives’ actions. And fellow students, there is no reason why you shouldn’t want that as well.

Elise Brown is a senior at West Linn High School.



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