Civic engagement, or exploitation?

It's hard to decide which party is less candid about its motives regarding a bill that passed the House on Tuesday allowing 16-year-olds to register to vote.

Democrats, who backed the bill and unanimously voted for it, say they want to encourage young people to get involved in the political process.

The law already allows 17-year-olds to register, but the bill's supporters argue the state can reach out to virtually all teens in the state when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get that all-important driver's license at 16. The next time they would be exposed to that opportunity would be when their licenses came up for renewal when they were 24.

The Democrats didn't say so, but their real motivation might — just might — be the opportunity to sign up young voters-to-be as Democratic Party members. Polls show young people tend to favor Democrats over Republicans, after all.

Whether the Democrats admit that or not, Republicans are clearly worried about it — they proposed an amendment that would have barred minors from joining political parties and kept their contact information private from parties and other political organizations. Rep. Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, argued that parties would contact 15-year-olds when they obtained a learner's permit and then encourage them to join when they register at 16. "Fifteen is just too young to be involved in partisan politics," Hicks said.

Horrors. Let impressionable teens join a political party and before you know it, they'll be wasting their lives volunteering in somebody's campaign office.

If Republicans thought they had a good chance of picking up some new party members, you would think they would back this bill, then go compete for 16-year-old hearts and minds.

The Democrats insist they're only trying to encourage civic participation among young people. If that's true, why bar them from voting until they turn 18? Perhaps Democrats figured the bill wouldn't pass if it allowed 16-year-olds to cast ballots.

Other Republican lawmakers suggested "cyber-stalkers" could use registration info to identify 16-year-olds on social media — although that apparently hasn't happened with 17-year-olds, who already can register.

Online predators, or political parties? Which is the greater threat?

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