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Law puts younger teens on voter rolls

But 16-year-olds can’t actually vote until 18

DENVER – When driver’s license offices open Jan. 2, Colorado 16-year-olds can get something else when they pick up their licenses: a voter registration card.

Teens still will have to be at least 18 on Election Day before they can vote, but a law that took effect Jan. 1 this year allows 16-year-olds to preregister and be added to the voter rolls as soon as they are 18.

Teens on the Colorado Youth Advisory Council pushed for the bill last spring.

“It was really a youth-oriented bill, and it was good to get the youth opinion,” said Logan Graham, vice chairman of the advisory council, a group that advises the state Legislature about youth issues.

Graham, a junior at Durango High School, said not many teenagers are aware of the law yet because it is so new.

“A surprising number of youths will take advantage of it,” Graham said. “It will get more popular as it gets implemented.”

Although Jan. 2 is the first day 16-year-olds can sign up to vote at the driver’s license office, they have been able to register at the county clerk’s office since Aug. 7, the day other portions of the law took effect.

But so far, registering to vote does not appear to be a hot new trend for teens.

No 16-year-olds currently are on La Plata County’s voter registration rolls, and only eight 17-year-olds have registered, said La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker.

In January, Parker will meet with a student ambassador who will lead registration efforts at area high schools.

“I just thought at least I’ll get the information out there,” Parker said.

Conventional wisdom holds that young voters tend to support Democrats, and legislators seem to agree. Every Democrat in the House and Senate voted for the bill, while every Republican voted against it.

House Democrats had tried in 2011 and 2012 to pass the bill, but they failed because they were in the minority until 2013.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, opposed the bill, but now that it passed, his office is focused on implementing it, said his spokesman, Andrew Cole.

“The challenge is to make sure people aren’t confused,” Cole said.

Sixteen-year-olds can register to vote, but they can’t cast a ballot until they turn 18. And they need to be ready to update their registrations if they move away after high school.

“Just because you register when you’re 16, if you do move, you have to update your registration,” Cole said.

Voter registrations are public records, but the new law shields the identity of teenagers who register to vote until they turn 18.


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