If you asked 100 Americans how old you must be to register to vote, 99 people would probably respond with “18.” BUZZZZZZZZ! Oh, I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.

You must be 18 to vote in a U.S. general election. But every state in the Union and the District of Columbia allow individuals to pre-register to vote before they turn 18. To mark National Voter Registration Day (September 24), here is what you need to know about voter pre-registration.

Pre-registration makes individuals eligible to cast a ballot once they reach age 18. Numerous studies have shown the pre-registration increases voter turnout among young Americans, which traditionally have lower participation than other age groups.

The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution changed America’s minimum voting age from 21 to 18. Congress approved the amendment in 1971 and the states ratified it shortly thereafter. The first presidential election to include citizens aged 18 to 21 was Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972. In that contest, 52 percent of people in that age range cast ballots. Since then, however, participation has dropped significantly.

Those states with the shortest lead time to pre-register are:

  • Texas – individuals must be 17 years and 10 months
  • Alaska – individuals can register within 90 days of your 18th birthday
  • Georgia, Iowa, Missouri – individuals can register within 6 months of their 18th birthday

Of the remaining states, some allow 16-year-olds to preregister, while it’s 17 in others. A third group of states don’t specify a lower age limit for pre-registration. They allow teens to register provided they will turn 18 before the next general election.

There are also 16 states plus the District of Columbia that allow 17-year-olds to actually vote in congressional primaries as long at the voter will be 18 by the general election. Here is the list.

There are also 24 states plus the District of Columbia that allow 17-year-olds to vote in presidential primaries/caucuses with the same provision—the voter must turn 18 by the general election. See the list here.

If you are a parent or simply know a young person who qualifies to register early, please share this and encourage them to do so. It’s good for democracy!

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