SHHHH Everybody!! I'm trying to talk politics!

2007 Anthony Rigano

The lack of youth participation in elections is a perennial concern. Of course, it?s not


17-Year-Old Voters?


SHHHH Everybody!! I'm trying to talk politics!

2007 Anthony Rigano

The lack of youth participation in elections is a perennial concern. Of course, it?s not that youth are stupid or lazy. Structural barriers confront voters of all ages. Washington State's presidential primary on Feb. 19 is another example of the inherent obstacles that depress participation with voting in our state.

Unlike other states in our nation, there will be two events this February regarding our presidential nomination process in Washington. Feb. 9 will be the date of the major party nominations with the caucus system. Here, Democrats will allocate 100 percent of their delegates to the national convention. Republican?s will allocate 49 percent. The public primary, on Feb. 19, will produce 51 percent of the Republican delegates and zero percent for the Democrats.

There?s another, and little noticed, disparity between the upcoming caucus and the primary, and it speaks to the concern over youth participation in elections.

If you?re 17 and will be 18 by the Nov. 4 election day, you can participate in the Democratic presidential precinct caucuses. The own rules of this private organization permit it to do so. The state GOP rules do not permit this.

At the same time, eligible 17-year-olds cannot participate in either Major Party state funded primary. Since they?re not 18, state law prohibits them from voting in this public election.

Many potential voters are shut out because of this situation when they need not be.

Maryland, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to vote in public primary nominations.

There?s good reason why these states have broadened the voting franchise in this manner. By excluding certain youth, the state is limiting associational opportunities: and that?s illegal. The state must conform its public primary rules to private party rules. In Maryland, where laws shut out youth, the Republican?s and Democrats, both wanting to appeal to a wider swath of voters, notified public officials of the legal situation. The state had to comply and included eligible 17-year-old voters in the primary.

There?s another reason we need to do this in here. Broadening the voting franchise will encourage many young Washingtonians to pay attention and participate in public life.

Eligible 17-year-old Democrats won?t only be selecting delegates for presidential nomination. Caucus attendees will also have the opportunity to forward resolutions to the state party. Resolutions submitted at the precinct level will automatically advance to the county convention and continue the process toward a state convention vote.

There can be resolutions about eligible 17-year-olds being able to participate in the public primary. The resolution needs to call on the leadership of the Washington State Democratic Party to notify our Attorney General, Rob McKenna, about the flawed state rules. AG McKenna, in turn, needs to rule accordingly or offer an opinion why the state must allow eligible 17-year-olds to participate in public nominations. While it may be too late to change the rules for the presidential primary, there?s no reason why the August Pick-A-Party primary cannot include eligible 17-year-olds.

(ADDITION 1.16.08 There is a big reason why this can't happen soon. Please read the following from our state constitution:

SECTION 1 QUALIFICATIONS OF ELECTORS. All persons of the age of eighteen years or over who are citizens of the United States and who have lived in the state, county, and precinct thirty days immediately preceding the election at which they offer to vote, except those disqualified by Article VI, section 3 of this Constitution, shall be entitled to vote at all elections. [AMENDMENT 63, 1974 Senate Joint Resolution No. 143, p 807. Approved November 5, 1974.])

Now is the time to contact your state legislator about this situation. There?s still time to submit a bill and get it passed this session.

Instead of maintaining obstacles, let?s create opportunities for youth to participate. If we build it, they will come.

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