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Bill would let Mass. teens "pre-register" to vote

March 21, 2012
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BOSTON—Massachusetts teens as young as 16 would be allowed to "pre-register" to vote under a bill that won the backing of a key legislative committee Wednesday.

Under the bill, the names of 16- and 17-year-olds who pre-register would be added to the voter rolls as soon as they turn 18 and are eligible to vote.

Supporters of the bill say it's geared to help boost voter participation by getting teens involved in the electoral process even before they can legally cast a ballot.

The bill, which won the backing of the Legislature's Committee on Election Laws, would also allow residents to download voter registration forms online and create mandatory training sessions for local election officials.

The registration form could be filled out on an individual's computer, but would still have to be printed out and mailed or delivered to local election officials.

The bill would also require audits after each election in a random selection of three percent of precincts in the state.

The audits must be performed in full public view and follow the procedures for the hand counting of ballots established by state law.

Supporters say anything that gets young people to take an interest in politics will help them develop a lifelong habit of voting.

"I am excited that this bill will allow our young people to pre-register to vote before they turn 18," said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. "Introducing our youth to the electoral process at an early age will give them more incentive to remain active voters as they age."

Avi Green, director of the voter advocacy group MassVOTE, called the bill "the most significant reform to strengthen the vote-counting and voter registration processes in Massachusetts in 20 years."

Green said the bill, if approved, could help put up to 20,000 teens on the path to voting. Green also praised the other safeguards in the bill.

"It sets up long-overdue, common-sense fail-safes to protect the integrity of vote," he added in a written statement.

The bill must be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor before becoming law.

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