Primary Voting at Age 17

FairVote advocates that states and political parties act to allow citizens who will be 18 years old on or before the general election to vote in their party’s corresponding primary or caucus. A notable portion of citizens who have the right to vote in the general election in November currently do not have a voice in determining who will be on that general election ballot. Granting voting rights in primaries and caucuses to these 17-year-olds is only fair and will increase their political engagement through participation. Policymakers can implement this reform by state law or party rule.

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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.

State-by-State Map: Congressional Primaries

These states allow 17-year-olds to vote in a Congressional primary election if they will be 18 by the date of the general election. This information was last updated in January of 2016.

infogram_0_17_year_old_congressional_primary_voting17 Year Old Congressional Primary Voting//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?NGKtext/javascript

infogram_0_where_can_17_year_olds_vote_in_congressional_primary_electionsWhere Can 17-Year-Olds Vote in Congressional Primary Elections?//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?nAStext/javascript

State-by-State Map: Presidential Primaries

These state parties allow 17-year-olds to vote in their presidential primary elections or caucuses if they will be 18 by the date of the general election. This information was last updated in January of 2016.

infogram_0_17_year_old_presidential_primary_and_caucus_voting17-Year-Old Presidential Primary and Caucus Voting//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?IULtext/javascript

infogram_0_where_can_17_year_olds_vote_in_presidential_primaries_or_caucusesWhere can 17-Year-Olds vote in Presidential Primaries or Caucuses?//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?70Ftext/javascript

Resources

  • Sample letter of support for 17-year-old primary voting legislation in California from Fairvote
  • FairVote case study on the Constitutionality of 17-year-old primary voting in Maryland
  • Policy brief on a proposed bill in the New Mexico legislature to adopt 17-year-old primary voting.
  • News and analysis documenting the success of Illinois's 17-year-old primary voting policy from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Lawyers' Committee.

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