Illinois state lawmakers took a step towards making their elections more inclusive by expanding the political rights of 17-year-olds. HB 6167, which was signed into law on August 5, 2016, grants 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next general election the ability to sign and circulate petitions, pre-register to vote, and help register other eligible citizens to vote. This law builds on a 2013 effort that gave 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next general election the right to vote in the corresponding primary elections.
By empowering young voters with these rights, they get more voice in determining what will be on their ballot in the general election. Studies have shown that when young people engage with politics, they become more likely to participate in elections as an adult and throughout the rest of their lifetime.
A large number of states and state parties already grant 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next general election the right to vote in their primaries. But, these statutes can often be confusing and sometimes differ between parties in the same state, which may lead to unintentional voter disenfranchisement. Other states should look to the example of Illinois and enact straightforward legislation to involve young voters in the political process. For more on this issue, visit FairVote’s page on Primary Voting at 17.