Debate over North Carolina’s restrictive new voting laws has focused on how a photo ID requirement suppresses turnout by lower-income voters. But a new study by two Duke scholars casts light on the effect of another change imposed by Republican lawmakers – the elimination of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The study, “Making Young Voters: The Impact of Preregistration on Youth Turnout,” was published in the American Journal of Political Science. The study conducted by John B. Holbein, a doctoral student in political science, and D.D. Sunshine Hillygus, a political science professor, found that preregistration increased the turnout of voters between the ages of 18 and 22.
Republican lawmakers might have hoped that cutting off preregistration would dampen turnout among young liberals, but it used to raise voter turnout generally evenly – between 7 and 8 percent – among Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, males and females. It wasn’t a good program just for Democrats. It was good for democracy.
Holbein said by email of North Carolina’s elimination of preregistration, “It’s unfortunate that North Carolina officials have chosen to remove such an exemplary public policy. Doing so will make it more difficult to get young people in the state, who are traditionally much less engaged in the democratic process than older citizens, to fulfill their role as active citizens.”
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Add to the list another item for when the General Assembly returns to caring about what’s best for North Carolina: Restore preregistration.