Sanders Campaign Sues Ohio to Let 17-Year-Olds Vote in Democratic Primary

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The teens feel the Bern.Photo: MICHAEL B. THOMAS

Bernie Sanders’s political revolution is largely backed by two groups: working-class people and Millennials. According to exit polls from Tuesday’s primary in Michigan, 81 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 voted for Sanders, as did 55 percent of voters ages 30 to 44. Sanders’s campaign relies on young voters to keep it afloat — so much so that it has filed a lawsuit against Jon A. Husted, Ohio’s secretary of State, to give 17-year-olds the right to vote in Ohio’s upcoming primary. The suit, which was filed in federal court on Tuesday, claims Husted is “arbitrarily” discriminating against young African-American and Latino voters by keeping 17-year-olds from voting, even if they’ll be 18 by the general election.

According to FairVote, a voting-rights advocacy group, Husted interpreted Ohio law to mean that 17-year-olds can vote in nominating contests but not in elections. Because a presidential primary involves voters electing delegates to party conventions, it’s therefore off-limits to anyone who’s underage. The Sanders campaign says this interpretation of the law is an “unconstitutional attempt to block young voters” who, based on federal-census data, “are more heavily African-American and Latino than older groups of voters.” (According to the New York Times, the lawsuit didn’t cite the actual data.)

The lawsuit itself claims Husted, who’s a Republican, changed the rules in December to keep 17-year-olds from voting. As evidence of the change, Sanders’s campaign cites a pamphlet put out in 2009 by then–Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat). Although the pamphlet makes it clear 17-year-olds can’t vote on things like statewide-ballot issues and the election of “state or county central committee persons,” it encourages 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to register to vote in the primary.

But Husted said there’s been no change in the law since he took office. “I welcome this lawsuit and I am very happy to be sued on this issue because the law is crystal clear,” he said in a statement. Ohio’s primary is on March 15, and Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told CNN he expects the issue to be cleared up by then.