On school campuses and state fairgrounds, teenagers preregister to vote for 2024 election

The new law prevents campaigns and voter outreach orgs from getting access to preregistered voter lists before they turn 18, despite the wishes of some DFL legislators.

A new allows 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote and provides that once those pre-registered voters turn 18, they will be automatically registered to vote in the next election. (Shutterstock)

The last days of August often are associated with the sights and sounds of back-to-school activities and, of course, the Minnesota State Fair.

This year those activities are being utilized to promote a new law that allows teenagers to preregister to vote in the 2024 presidential election cycle.

At Edina High School on Thursday, the local chapter for the League of Women Voters was among several organizations and activities tables available to students at a “Get Connected” back-to-school event on the suburban Minneapolis campus.

Colleen Feige was among a handful of LWV-Edina members who interacted with students at the event, many of whom were at school to pick up parking permits and get information from teachers, staff and fellow classmates about upcoming extra-curricular activities.

But Feige, a former school board member and current president for the LWV-Edina, was there to engage with students about the voting process and to educate them about the new law — which went into effect June 1. It allows 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote and provides that once those pre-registered voters turn 18, they will be automatically registered to vote in the next election. As the 2024 presidential election cycle draws nearer, Feige said her table drew more attention from students than it had in previous years.

“It’s such an important thing to do to reach out to young people and inform them of their right to vote,” said Feige, who added that the LWV-Edina chapter has regularly organized similar efforts to register eligible students to vote, both at the beginning of the school year and at an end-of-the-year event where seniors pick up caps and gowns for graduation.

This year, the LWV table at Edina High School featured QR codes for students aged 16 and 17 to scan that would take them to an online preregistration application on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website. The organization also had paper applications available atop its voting information table. But nearly every student who showed interest opted for the smart phone-enabled method, Feige said.

“We’ve done this in the years past, and there is always some interest,” she said. “But we were able to generate much more interest when students who were 16 and 17 learned they could preregister to vote for the 2024 election.”

“That caused a lot of excitement among some of the young people we engaged with,” Feige said. “Not all of them of course. But many found it really rewarding to be able to begin the process of participating in democracy even before they can actually vote.”

That’s the point of the new law, according to Secretary of State Steve Simon, who was on site for opening day of the Minnesota State Fair Thursday promoting the new preregistration voting law for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“We are getting a lot of parents and families here at the fair today doing that,” Simon said in a social media post he filmed from the MN SOS booth in the Grand Stand.

Minnesota 16th state to allow preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds

Simon has also been doing outreach across the state this summer promoting the new preregistration law and several other provisions — some more controversial than others — contained in the Democracy for the People Act.

Earlier this month he spoke about young people and voting habits at a League of Women Voters forum in New Ulm.

“If someone thinks of themselves as a voter, they are much more likely to vote that first time they are eligible at 18, 19, 20, or whatever,” Simon told audience members at the Aug. 1 event.

“This isn’t just happy talk or theory or speculation; there are studies out there in states like Florida and Hawaii, red states and blue states, that show you can actually make a connection in turnout, a small one, among younger people in states with preregistration laws like the one we have now (in Minnesota).”

While the preregistration provision has had some bipartisan support in the Minnesota legislature in the past, this session it was tucked into a much larger elections bill that passed on a party-line vote in the House and Senate, with exclusively DFL support. Republicans had expressed frustration with a number of provisions in the wide-ranging piece of legislation. The preregistration measure for 16- and 17-year-olds had been passed in 15 other states when it became law on June 1.

“It’s also an extra reason or excuse for the League of Women Voters to continue to do all the great work you do in high schools across Minnesota,” Simon said at the New Ulm event. “Now it’s not just about registering (students) to vote, you can get into high schools and preregister people to vote.”

Preregistration as an opportunity for political campaigns to grab young voters early?

When the bill was first discussed in the legislature in January, high school and college students who testified in support of the legislation said this will give grassroots organizers who target young people for voting a better advantage to engage them at a younger age.

Isaac Israel, a senior last year at St. Louis Park High School, helped lead a voter registration drive at his school in September 2022.

“There was just a ton of energy about voting and about getting involved in our democracy,” Israel told legislators during a committee hearing in January. “As I noticed this, I am still 17 at the time and I cannot register to vote. And there was little that most students felt they could begin to do get involved in our democracy (if they weren’t old enough to vote). What preregistration does is it builds a habit of voting even before they can vote.”

Kailez Campbell, a student at Concordia University in St. Paul, also testified in support of the bill. She said she has volunteered in political campaigns and grassroots movements to “mobilize and encourage” young people to vote.

With voter preregistration available to 16- and 17-year-olds, “we can empower the next generation to partake in the shaping of our nation’s future,” said Campbell.

While the Office of the Secretary of State has technology-aided procedures to vet preregistrations it receives for accuracy and ensure that those future voters are listed as “pending,” and then rolled over into “active” voter status after they turn 18, legislators considering the provision during committee hearings asked whether political campaigns, parties and non-profit organizations would have access to the preregistered roll of future voters.

As the bill made its way through the legislature, Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, suggested during a Jan. 11 committee hearing on the bill that its language should be amended to allow for political campaigns and non-profit organizations to have access to preregistration voter lists for individuals under 18 who will be eligible to vote in the next election. Currently, state statute keeps “pending” voters who are under 18 off the public voter roll list that is accessible to campaigns for such things as door knocking, mailers and phone calls.

“I think that would be helpful [to give campaigns earlier access to preregistered voters],” Stephenson said. “I certainly agree we shouldn’t be putting 16-year-olds’ names on lists for campaigns to contact. But if a voter is going to be able to vote during [an upcoming] election and they are going to be registered to vote … that would give campaigns and not-for-profit groups, entities that are interested in the election, an opportunity to communicate with those voters in advance of an election in which they are eligible to participate.”

That suggestion never made it into the final version that Gov. Tim Walz signed into law in May.

“Currently, under state law, only active registered voters are available (for campaigns to access) on the public info list,” said Nicole Freeman, government relations director for the secretary of state during a hearing on the preregistration legislation.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.