Can I Pre-Register to Vote Before I'm 18 Years Old?

Sohail Sumra

Sohail Sumra

Young voter turnout is on the rise. These emerging voters can get set up to vote before an election to increase their likelihood of becoming active voters. Sohail Sumra shows young people how to make their voice heard even before they turn 18.

Getting Ready to Vote in High School

Though more than a half century has passed since the 26th Amendment gave 18-year-old U.S. citizens the right to vote, there is still a tremendous gap when comparing the number of young Americans who go to the polls with overall voter turnout. The process of acquiring the correct identification, registering to vote, and even learning how to vote takes time and effort. 

Can this process be made more manageable by allowing emerging voters to pre-register before they are 18 years old? Yes, in many states you may be eligible to pre-register to vote before you turn 18.

Meet Sohail Sumra - He pre-registered to become a lifelong voter

Sohail Sumra pre-registered to vote before he was 18 years old. As a high school student, Sohail Sumra was well respected by his peers for his community involvement, charismatic personality, and political knowledge. Over a decade later, Sohail Sumra talks with U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) about his civic journey from pre-registration to seasoned voter.


Sohail, you stood out at Fairfield Ludlowe High School for your engagement with the Falcon community, and for taking rigorous social science classes. What extracurricular activities did you engage in as a student? What types of social science classes did you take?

Sohail Sumra

As a student I was involved in many different extracurricular activities, including being a member of the Mock Trial team and President of Interact (high school level Rotary Club). I also participated in school plays and musicals. For social science classes, I took AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP U.S. History, AP Modern European History, and an additional course centered on the United Nations. 


How did you develop an interest in these activities and courses?

Sohail Sumra

I have alway had a desire to be involved and learn more about how the world around us works. That desire led to an interest in studying history and its impact on our current society. 

From there, I found myself becoming more involved in civic engagement and a desire to be an active participant in our government. Participating on the Mock Trial team exposed me to court proceedings and gave me a better understanding of the judicial branch of government. 

Being a part of Interact gave me perspective toward the need for services and charities both in collaboration with and in addition to what government services are provided.

AP Government, AP U.S. History, and the UN course fulfilled the need to understand our government better from a holistic perspective. 


Your school offered students the opportunity to pre-register to vote through voter registration drives. You also had the opportunity to pre-register online, at Fairfield’s Office of the Registrars of Voters, or at state offices such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Do you recall registering to vote for the first time?

Sohail Sumra

Yes, I recall registering for the first time and being excited to finally be able to vote and participate in our electoral process. 

I turned 18 after the school year ended, versus some of my classmates who already had the ability to vote in the 2010 midterm elections. I remember being dismayed at being unable to vote then and also having to wait until after high school was over to be able to be a full participant in the process. 

Registering to vote was thankfully very easy. I would attribute this to being interested and involved in school at a time when information became so accessible. 

When I was a freshman in high school most of my friends just had normal flip phones and could text but had limited internet access. When I graduated everyone had already gotten iPhones or some type of smartphone and could easily look up how to vote, when to vote, etc. 

And then it helped that in school we were constantly being engaged and given both the opportunity and information to pre-register. 


Yes, Fairfield has robust civic education opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

In Connecticut, you were also allowed to vote in closed primary elections at age 17 if you joined a party. Do you recall whether you voted in a primary at that age? And did you vote in the first general election available to you upon turning 18?

Sohail Sumra

At the time of registration I opted to be an independent. At the time, party affiliation felt contrary to my beliefs as a voter. I felt it was important to be open to hearing multiple sides rather than a specific party affiliation. 

I still feel this way; while I understand the merits of the closed primary system I disagree with its premise. I think primary elections, particularly for state and local elections, should be open to independents. I instead voted for the first time in 2011, the November after I had turned 18. 


Do you think registering early had an impact on your decision to take the next step and cast a ballot as a first-time voter? Did you feel more connected to or invested in the political process as a result of having registered and voted?

Sohail Sumra

Absolutely, I believe registering should be as easy as possible. 

Registering early encouraged me to remain more invested in the political process, knowing that when the time came to cast my ballot I would want to be well informed. 

The process also engaged me to ensure my parents and older siblings were also registered.


Many states provide options for young voters to register before they are 18. Some states set the age at 16, some at 17, and some don’t specify an age but instead stipulate that the registrant must be 18 by the next general election. Teenagers can check their state’s registration requirements to see how the process works for their locality.

Yet, though these options exist, many teens are not pre-registering. A recent study revealed that only 16.5% of eligible teens pre-registered in neighboring New York, for instance.

Instead of focusing on the reasons why a young person might not pre-register, let’s discuss the reasons why they might. What factors contributed to you registering before you turned 18?

Sohail Sumra

I would say the simplicity of registering was probably the highest contributing factor. 

Also, the ability to register through the DMV. For Connecticut teens, a huge part of turning 16, 17, and 18 is getting your driver’s permit and license. During the process, you simply have to check a box and you’re registered to vote. 

There’s nothing easier than already being in the process of doing something and then having the ability to just check a box and have it done. A lot of times this can be a barrier that’s hard to overcome, because teens don’t have that same incentive to get an ID or a license (I’m thinking of teens in the city, specifically). 

And then, in thinking specifically about incentives or catalysts of actions, it really comes down to how the local schools are promoting voting to their students. Making the process easier and including it in some incentive-based program would definitely influence people to pre-register more. This is easier said than done because it would require resources dedicated towards incentivizing teens to register. 

For me, voting drives really helped. There were so many opportunities available that it became hard not to be registered. I would have had to actively avoid it. 

For teenagers at that age there are so many things in life that are actively vying for their attention. Registering to vote is one of those things where, if it's attached to something and made easily accessible, then engagement is likely to increase. But it requires effort and resources. It requires cooperation from a lot of people, whether it is teachers, administration, elected officials, etc. 

I will say another catalyst which incentivized my desire to register early was the need to be an active participant in a political scene filled with both debate and hope. My four years of high school coincided with Barack Obama taking office during a tumultuous period. However, unbeknownst to myself and many others at the time, the topic of politics was not as polarizing as it is now. You could have a spirited debate and disagree but still be civil. 

That spirit of debate drew myself and others to want to participate in the process. The current political climate in the country feels void of that environment.


Over the past decade, have you continued to vote with regularity? Did your perspective on voting change in your twenties?

Sohail Sumra

Yes, I have yet to miss an Election Day. I try my best to stay informed about elections and the voting process. 

For example, right now I’m happy that Connecticut has finally passed legislation to implement early voting and make it more accessible. It became apparent during 2020 and afterwards that we as a state were behind and needed to update our processes. 

In terms of my perspective on voting, I’m not sure if it’s changed significantly from when I was in high school. I still believe that voting should be as easy as possible, that everyone should have the ability to vote and participate in the electoral process.

I think that registering should be easy and that same-day registration should be allowed everywhere. I still think that there should be more polling stations, more days and hours where people should be able to vote, and that employers, both federal and private, should actively encourage their employees to vote and give them time off if needed. 

I also am still a proponent of the idea that local elections matter more than federal elections, and that more of an emphasis needs to be placed on voting in non-presidential election years. 


Do you think your early political engagement affected your current level of voting participation?

Sohail Sumra

Absolutely, I don’t think I would be as likely to vote now if it wasn’t for my early political engagement. 

I learned how important it was to vote and be a part of the process then, and that’s stuck with me as I’ve grown older. 

For others, their engagement in the political process tends to only come when it has a direct effect on their personal life. I find that a lot of the people in my age group are less incentivized to vote than they were when we were 18. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share with teenagers about pre-registration or voting?

Sohail Sumra

The first step to getting involved is to participate, and the easiest way to participate is through voting. Voting is something that you may not realize how important it is until it is too late. Unlike presidential elections, elections for ballot initiatives, governors, mayor, representatives, and senators all affect your life more than you realize. 

So register early if you can; get it out the way. That way when the time comes to vote, there will be nothing in your way. Never forget that your vote matters. 

Future voters who want to get set up to vote like Sohail Sumra did before he turned 18 can register to vote through U.S. Vote Foundation’s tools. Making a plan of how to vote is one of the most important steps citizens can take to increase their likelihood of voting. Young voters can also set up a secure Voter Account so that they can get reminders and easily access their voting information each time they need to generate voting forms no matter where life takes them.