Since his 2012 election to the Washington state legislature, Rep. Steve Bergquist had been trying to persuade his colleagues to support a bill allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote — and requiring schools to help get them on the rolls, a move the Democratic lawmaker was sure would improve voter turnout among young people when they turned 18. There was opposition and concern: Was it an unfair burden on schools? Did it open the registration and voting process up to fraud? And wasn’t it already pretty easy to register in Washington, which has a “motor voter” law, as well as registration by mail and online?
So Bergquist used his experience as a former high school social studies teacher to his advantage.
He found a largely ignored, 1923 law on the books, a measure that established Temperance and Good Citizenship Day, to be observed by all public schools annually on Jan. 16 (or a school day close to that date). It was a lot easier to tweak an existing law than to get colleagues to approve a new one. So Bergquist proposed new language that would require schools to offer voter pre-registration for eligible teens on that day. He also streamlined the process to make sure schools would follow through: instead of having the civics lesson trickle down to teachers from state, local, district and school administration officials, the new law gives directives straight to social studies teachers’ email inboxes.