Milwaukee Approves Resolution Supporting Pre-Registration of Teenagers to Vote

The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved a resolution calling on the Wisconsin legislature to allow the pre-registration of 16 and 17 year-olds to vote. While the resolution claims that the purpose is to increase voter participation by building lifetime habits of voting early, there is concern that such a proposal may cause confusion about the legal age for voting.

“Academic studies and electoral analyses show that voting behavior is habit-forming,” the resolution claims. “[P]eople who vote continue voting, while those who do not vote typically do not start voting, accordingly, voter registration boosts civic engagement, particularly among the state’s youngest citizens.”

In addition to pre-registering high school age students to vote, the resolution also calls upon the legislature to pass a law for “universal registration.” Anyone interacting with a government agency would automatically have his or her voter registration updated.

“With automatic voter registration, eligible citizens who interact with government agencies, such as obtaining a driver’s license, are registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated unless they decline,” the resolution states.

The resolution claims that the program would actually lower costs even though it essentially would make every government agency responsible for maintaining and transmitting voter registration information to the state election commission.

The Milwaukee Common Council also included a request to the legislature to expand the allowable identification at the polls to include digital IDs on smart phones.

The resolution was approved without discussion by the Common Council. The resolution now goes to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett before being sent on to the state legislature.

It’s not likely to be warmly received there by the Republican majority.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) says the resolution doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially because “universal registration” would make pre-registration redundant.

“Universal voter registration conflicts with this invented process of ‘pre-registration’ – if you have one you most certainly don’t need the other, and vice versa,” Stroebel said in an email Wednesday.

Stroebel added that the resolution misses that there is a responsibility on the part of the voter when it comes to registration.

“What is being lost in this discussion is that rights go hand in hand with responsibilities,” Stroebel said. “Voter registration is the civic responsibility we have to collectively exercise our voting rights. Voter registration and photo ID requirements prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of our elections.”

The senator also worried about the confusion that could be caused by Milwaukee’s proposed changes to the voter registration laws.

“Adding an unnecessary layer to this process through ‘pre-registration’ only serves to make the process confusing and could lead to ineligible individuals mistakenly believing they should vote before they are of age,” Stroebel said. “Already we make it easy to participate in the electoral process by allowing same day voter registration.”