- Election Information
- 17-Year-Old Voting in Primaries
17-Year-Old Voting in Primaries
17-Year-Old Primary Voting
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.
The Facts: 17-Year-Old Primary Voting
17-year-olds can vote in Congressional and/or Presidential primaries and caucuses in a 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.
- In Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming 17-year-old Democrats may caucus, but not 17-year-old Republicans.
- This patchwork policy creates confusion and can potentially disenfranchise eligible voters. Parties should act nationally to make this practice a norm.
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.
How Parties Can Enact 17-Year-Old Voting
17-year-old primary and caucus voting does not require state legislative action. Many states adopting this policy have done so by state law, but others have by changing state party rules.
- 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. FairVote's 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.
State-by-State Facts: 17-Year-Old Voting in Primary Elections
- 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.