Columnist discusses Jon Husted’s initiative to keep 17-year-olds from voting in the presidential primaries.
Column by Maeve O’Brien, ’16
Less than two weeks before the presidential primary on March 15, The Columbus Dispatch broke the news to teenagers across Ohio: Secretary of State Jon Husted barred 17-year-olds who would be 18 by the general election from voting for a presidential candidate in the primaries.
The reaction that this news caused was unforeseen. Teenagers did not sit idly by and accept the law; instead, they spoke out publicly against Jon Husted, sent letters to his office, bombarded him with emails and even congregated in a peaceful protest outside of his office. As a senior who turns 18 this coming summer, I made sure to be there.
The source of the teenagers’ frustration seems to be twofold: 1. Husted’s interpretation of Ohio election law differs from what he enforced back in the 2012 primary, despite him claiming that it has always been this way, and 2. The news broke right before voting day, after some students had been expecting to follow the historical precedent and cast their ballots in the primary.
Husted cited Ohio election law, in which 17-year-olds can only vote in elections where they “nominate” candidates, not “elect” them. He claimed that by voting in the presidential primary, 17-year-olds are “electing” delegates to cast their ballots for a certain candidate at the larger national convention in July.
Nine registered 17-year-old voters later sued Husted in state court for violating their voting rights. On March 11, a Franklin County judge granted them an emergency order that blocked Husted’s initiative, FOX News reported. Just like that, 17-year-olds were permitted to vote again.
Although I am pleased that I ultimately was allowed to vote in the presidential primary, I am left with a twinge of disappointment that this debacle even occurred in the first place. In a country that routinely struggles with low voter turnout, I think young, American voters should be encouraged to participate politically, not silenced right before an election.
We, as young voters, are the next generation of politicians, policy-makers, lawyers, businessmen, and activists; how we view our national political processes is highly influential in determining the fate of our country. If we are disenchanted with our state government before we even turn 18, we are bound to grow apathetic towards national politics, and thus participate less.
The U.S. is continually plagued with skepticism towards politicians, disappointment in Washington, and misinformation about how our government functions. A crucial first step in fixing these issues is to reach out to young Americans, the next generation of voters, and let them know that their opinion and insight does matter. Husted’s attempted move was a step in the wrong direction.
As I walked up towards the protest on Broad St., a man passed us on the sidewalk. “Dumb 17-year-olds shouldn’t be able to vote anyways,” he mumbled just loud enough for my friend and I to hear.
You see, sir, by gathering sixty-some informed and passionate high school students from across Ohio to address a political issue, we have already accomplished a task that half the American adult population has yet to get around to. We care.