17-year-olds could vote in primaries

Seventeen-year-olds who will turn 18 before Election Day may soon be allowed to vote in state primaries, pending the ratification of an amendment to Connecticut’s constitution.

Backed by Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and State Rep. James Spallone, the bill, if passed, would make Connecticut the 10th state to enact such a constitutional revision. Bysiewicz said the bill — which was unanimously approved by the Government Administrations and Elections committee — is designed to encourage youth participation in the political process and to increase the amount of attention paid to youth issues.

People vote in the 2006 aldermanic race. Connecticut 17-year-olds may be able to vote in state primaries if an amendment is passed.
Matt Lucas
People vote in the 2006 aldermanic race. Connecticut 17-year-olds may be able to vote in state primaries if an amendment is passed.

Spallone said the proposal addresses the need to bolster voting among young people — the age group that consistently has the lowest turn-out — in order to encourage them to assume a more active role in politics.

“The stakes are very high for anyone who is going to be living in the society for several decades,” Spallone said. “The youth are going to rise into positions of leadership in the future. We should start instilling in them habits of citizenship and give them a change to gauge the election process and understand issues and candidates.”

Currently, 17-year-olds are not able to vote in primary elections even if they will be eligible to vote before the associated general election. The amendment would not lower the overall voting age to 17.

Bysiewicz said no opposition to the bill has been voiced thus far, and she expects it to pass. Because youth are a politically diverse group, she said, both Republicans and Democrats have an incentive to pass the bill.

Bysiewicz said the amendment was an effort to increase voter turnout among young people and to help generate lifelong voters.

“This is the perfect time to engage youth in voting,” Bysiewicz said. “Research shows that if someone votes for the first time, they are four to five times more likely to subsequently vote. The amendment aims to establish a lifelong tradition of voting.”

The amendment also recognizes the need to correct the existing legal double standard, she said, which allows youth to enroll in combat and hold similar civic responsibilities at 17 but denies them voting rights.

“Today, there are 17-year-old youth who have enlisted in the army and are fighting for us in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they cannot vote for the leaders who sent them there,” Bysiewicz said. “Young people pay nine billion [dollars] in federal taxes. They’re driving. They hold jobs. They are acting as responsible citizens in so many other ways. Why then should they not be able to vote?”

She added that she hopes the amendment, if adopted, will bring more issues affecting youth — such as the war in Iraq, college scholarships, job training and education — to the forefront of public civic agendas.

The amendment, which Spallone said has now gained momentum after two failed earlier attempts, would benefit around 1,000 eligible 17-year-olds in the state. To be passed, the bill needs three-quarters majority support in the State Senate and House of Representatives and must be approved by voters in 2008.

Eric Kafka ‘08, president of Yale College Democrats, said he is in favor of the amendment since it would better ease voters into the election process.

“It would be an advantage in that some people don’t register to vote when they turn 18 because they’re in a transitional mode in their life as seniors in high school,” Kafka said. “Having that age be 17, when students are in their junior years or earlier in their senior year … helps them get into the flow and rhythm of voting.”

But Yale College Republicans Treasurer Christopher Day ‘07 said it is unlikely to encourage youth voter turnout, though he supports the bill.

“[The amendment] gives those who would vote on election day a say in the candidates running,” he said. “But I don’t think it will increase the number of youth voters, since they would register at practically the same time.”

Day added that although this specific measure seems “reasonable,” he does not support a trend toward lower voting ages, since youth are insufficiently versed in legal proceedings and civic issues.

The amendment, if adopted, would not come into effect until 2009.

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