- Democracy Innovations
- Primary Voting at Age 17
- Facts: 17 Year-Old Primary Voting
Facts: 17 Year-Old Primary Voting
The Facts: 17-Year-Old Primary Voting
17-year-olds can vote in primaries and caucuses in large number of states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Seventeen-year-olds may also vote in District of Columbia primaries. Most have done this by state law, but others by changing state party rules. Parties may request allowing 17-year-old primary voting by asserting their First Amendment freedom of association rights.
- In Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming 17-year-old Democrats may caucus, but are barred from participating in the Republican caucus.
- This patchwork policy creates confusion and can potentially disenfranchise eligible voters. Parties should act nationally to make this practice a norm.
17-year-old primary and caucus voting does not require state legislative action
- State parties have broad authority over their nominating contests.
- They may request to allow 17-year-old primary voting by asserting their First Amendment freedom of association rights.
Primary voting rights for 17-year-olds is legal and does not change the voting age
- Only those 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election may vote in the corresponding primary election or caucus. Our proposal treats the nomination contest as an integral part of the general election in which these citizens can vote.
- The 26th Amendment prevents states from denying suffrage to 18-year-olds, but does not prevent states from establishing 17-year-old primary and caucus voting.
Voting when young forms a lifetime habit
- Parties have a self-interest in encouraging this policy—if a 17-year-old votes in a particular party’s contest, that young person may vote for that party for decades.
- Studies show youth will vote if asked to do so—this policy increases youth engagement in the political process by creating an ethos of participation from a younger age. Once a person votes, that person is likely to vote again.