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Testimony on SB423 (HB345)
February 9th, 2017
Elective Franchise - Registration and Voting at Polling Place
Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

POSITION: SUPPORT

Maryland PIRG is a state based, citizen funded public interest advocacy organization with grassroots members across the state and a student funded, student directed chapter at the University of Maryland College Park. For forty years we’ve stood up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. 

Maryland PIRG strongly supports SB423 to enable eligible voters to register and vote or update their registration address on Election Day. 

A functioning democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. Every American – Democrat, Republican, or independent – has a fundamental right to have their vote counted. Step one to participation in elections is registering to vote; unfortunately many Marylanders, especially young people are not participating.

In 2014, only 42% of youth between the ages of 18-24 were registered to vote before the election, compared to 74% of over 25 year olds.[1]  Numerous studies have shown that voting is habit forming, and youth who vote are more likely to become life-long voters. 

In Maryland PIRG’s 40-year history of working with young people and running non-partisan voter registration drives, we have found that most young people want to and intend to participate in voting, but as first time voters they often struggle to navigate the voter registration system or forget they need to update their registration every time they move.

During the 2014 midterm elections, for example, Maryland PIRG students helped register and turn out thousands of University of Maryland students to vote, resulting in a 25% increase in voter participation, the highest turnout at the campus polling location in the last six midterm elections. If you ask students to vote and help them navigate the system they will.

Marylanders can update their registration addresses, or register for the first time during Early Voting.  Nearly 20,000 Marylanders used the program in 2016. We should expand this program to Election Day. By encouraging first time voters, and especially young people, who show up on Election Day to register and vote we can increase civic participation and build a more functional democracy.

We respectfully request a favorable report on SB423.

[1] The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 2016.

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