17-year-old Primary Voting

Increasing Youth Engagement Through Participation

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.


FACTS ABOUT 17-YEAR-OLD PRIMARY AND CAUCUS VOTING:

  • 17-year-olds can vote in primaries and caucuses in half of U.S. states
    • States include: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont,  and Washington. Most have done this by state law, but others by changing rules in parties.
    • In Alaska, Kansas, North Dakota and Washington, 17-year-old Democrats may caucus, but are barred from participating in the Republican caucus.
    • In Minnesota, 17-year-olds may participate in presidential caucuses, but may not vote in primary elections for other offices.
    • This patchwork policy creates confusion and can potentially disenfranchise eligible voters. Parties should act nationally to make this practice a norm.
  • In 2008, there were more than four million 17-year-olds in America
    • Young eligible voters (18 to 29 year-olds) have traditionally voted at the lowest rates because they are not prepared for participation.
    • This policy ensures more young people are on the voter rolls and prepared to participate in the general election.
  • 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 will increase 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.

See more maps like this in FairVote's Mapping American Democracy series.