Cross-posted at ONE Massachusetts
By: Rachael V. Cobb, Associate Professor and Chair Government Department, Suffolk University
During a recent hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws, Rachael V. Cobb, Associate Professor and Chair of the Government Department at Suffolk University, presented persuasive testimony on H.1979 and S.302 Pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. The lead sponsor on the House bill is Representative Michael Moran, and on the Senate bill, the lead is Senator Sal DiDomenico. It would be valuable to receive your comments on this issue after you have read Professor Cobb’s testimony that follows.
The unique thing about pre-registration is that it enables schools, youth centers, after-school programs and other organizations to register young people at a perfect moment — at the moment just when they are learning about and getting excited about government, history, and civics. It’s a perfect moment of engagement and it’s a perfect civics lesson to be able to let young people know that the moment they turn 18, they can be lifers in the voting club.
There are lots of clubs that are open, but we also know human nature. We know that people don’t join clubs spontaneously. They join when they are asked. They don’t give money until they are asked. They don’t spontaneously volunteer their time until they are asked.
Here are two tales about voters:
Tale 1: The virtuous cycle of the voter. A person votes and his or her name is publicly recorded as voting. Her name goes on a list — those lists which are the bread and butter of parties and campaigns. People on these lists are coded — coded as voters, super voters, nonvoters, etc. Who do parties, campaigns, groups contact? The voters, especially the super voters. So suddenly, this new voter becomes a “person of interest” to parties, candidates, and organizations. Our new voter gets contacted. She receives mailings, phone calls, emails. Regardless of how much attention our new voter pays to any of these forms of contact, those forms of contact are important because what has happened is, overnight, our voter has joined the “club” — the club belonging to people who participate. Voting a gateway — it leads to other forms of participation. Our new voter feels connected.
Tale 2: The vicious cycle of the nonvoter. The nonvoter does not vote and is coded as such — she is the nonvoter. She is not contacted. She is left alone. It is not worth it for a party or a candidate to try and woo someone who has shown no interest. And so, that potential voter remains a potential voter. She does not receive the same amount of information that the voter receives. She is less informed. And the problem is now compounded because it’s kind of embarrassing to not be informed. So she is not part of the club.
It is our job, as members of this club, to invite as many people to the table as we can get. We should be active in our outreach and clear with young people that we want them, we want their ideas, their excitement, and their commitment to this country, and their communities.