In Ohio, as in 21 other states and the District of Columbia, if you will turn 18 years old by the time of the general election, you are permitted to participate in your state’s caucus or primary.
Yet the Buckeye State reversed course and 17-year-olds will no longer be able to vote in the state’s presidential primary on March 15.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s directive, in the 2015 election manual, states that these young voters cannot vote because the presidential primary election being held on March 15 will elect delegates, who then go to the conventions of their parties to vote on a nominee. The difference, the Republican Secretary of State says, is between “electing” and “nominating.”
Seventeen-year-olds may nominate a candidate for office, but not elect an official. So it rests on whether a vote in the primary is categorized as an election or a nomination.
In 2008, Husted’s predecessor Jennifer Brunner confirmed that 17-year-olds could just nominate candidates, but did not say how presidential primaries were categorized. Still, the young voters were able to participate in the state’s 2008 primary, which became a battleground between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) challenged Husted’s interpretation of the rules.
“I was astonished to learn that 17-year-old Ohioans who will legally become adults before the November election are now being prohibited from having a say in the direction of their country at the presidential ballot box during the primary. Ohio’s pro-voter practice that welcomes young adults into the process has been on the books since 1981,” she said in a statement.
Clyde asserted that the young voters have been able to participate in the state’s primary for decades.
Husted’s spokesman, Josh Eck, told the Columbus Dispatch that Clyde’s statement was a “piece of fiction.”
“This statute and its interpretation have been used for years,” he said.
Less than half of all states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and caucuses if they will be 18 by the date of the general election. The decision rests with the state parties, the state attorney general, and the secretary of state.
Last month, New Mexico changed its law to allow 17-year-olds to vote in its primary election this year.
Last year, Ohio students sued Husted for his efforts to restrict voting. In the past, Husted has a trashed provisional ballots, restricted early voting, defied court orders to keep early voting open, and retaliating against voting officials who opposed his efforts.
Young people have been a key component of the coalition Sen. Bernie Sanders has drawn together to five primaries to date. Among voters age 17-29, Sanders beat Clinton in the razor-thin Iowa caucus 84 percent to 14 percent. Politico ran a story in January titled “Why Bernie Sanders Is Obsessed With 17-Year-Olds,” highlighting internet-based fundraising, ideological proclivities, and excitement for voting.
Then-candidate Barack Obama targeted 17-year-old voters in 2008’s primary race against Clinton — including in Ohio.