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Is WA Serving "Next Gen" Voters? Survey says Yes – and No

 

June 13, 2011



SEATTLE - Washington leads the nation in a new survey of how states treat their younger voters - but even at the top, there's room for improvement.

The group Rock the Vote compiled a scorecard that tracks how well each state is preparing young people to be good citizens and informed voters. States were judged on how easy or tough it is to register and cast a ballot, as well as how civics education is handled in High School.

Washington scored highest in the nation overall, but with a grade of only 68 points out of 100. Thomas Bates, Rock the Vote's vice president for civic engagement, says the state could be doing more.

"There's definitely room for same-day registration to help people who might not have gotten their ballot to be able to go and get registered and get their ballots, up to Election Day. Pre-registration is another issue that's been talked about in the Legislature, and we hope that we can push that forward."

Washington gets high marks for the convenience of the vote-by-mail system, now in place in every county except Pierce. The survey found a lot of states are passing laws that make voting more difficult, says Bates, particularly those which require people to present a government-issued photo identification card to receive a ballot.

Bates acknowledges the concerns about voter fraud with same-day or online voter registration, but says the current system is outmoded - and young voters aren't the only ones inconvenienced.

"There are plenty of reasons why people aren't on the rolls and realize it too late. I think there needs to be a failsafe for people who evidence an interest and willingness to vote but are trapped by this kind of antiquated system."

The League of Women Voters of Washington volunteers in classrooms on the topic of civics and helps register teens of voting age. Many states endorse these strategies, Bates says, but only about half make them a priority.

"We like both of those policies, both the High School civics and the pre-registration, because it's really teaching young people about not only the 'why' but the 'how.'"

The Washington Legislature has mandated one-half credit of civics education for graduation, but the requirement starts with the class of 2016. In the Rock the Vote survey, the average state score for engaging younger voters was only 41 points.

The survey results are online at rockthevote.com.

 

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