Sanders Campaign, 17-Year-Olds Sue Ohio Over Voting Rights

by | March 9, 2016

By Jim Provance

Nine 17-year-olds, including one from Toledo, sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Tuesday over his office's refusal to allow them to vote in the presidential race in next week's primary election.

The lawsuit contends the state's chief elections officer, a Republican, has misinterpreted state law allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the time of the November general election.

Mr. Husted determined that because voters are electing convention delegates rather than nominating candidates in the primary, 17-year-olds cannot vote in the presidential race. They can vote in U.S. Senate, state legislative, judicial, and other races on the same ballot in which candidates are nominated, but not elected at this stage.

The suit, filed on the teens' behalf by the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network in Washington, claims Mr. Husted has confused county boards of elections. Some have allowed 17-year-olds to vote. Others have set those ballots aside with the understanding the presidential votes will not be counted.

Although not a party to the suit, the Ohio Democratic Party applauded it. The League of Women Voters of Ohio has urged Mr. Husted to reconsider his position. The dispute appears to come down to the definition of "nominating" or "electing" presidential delegates.

The suit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court names as plaintiffs seven 17-year-olds from Columbus and one each from Toledo and Kent, Ohio. It seeks a temporary injunction preventing Mr. Husted from enforcing his interpretation of the law in next Tuesday's election.

According to the suit, Alice Weaver Koeninger, a senior at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, will turn 18 on March 16, a day after Ohio's primary. She registered to vote in anticipation of voting in the presidential primary. A call to Ms. Koeninger's family for comment was not immediately returned.

The campaign for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday also sued Mr. Husted for preventing 17-year-olds from voting on presidential candidates. The Sanders lawsuit includes six 17-year-olds as plaintiffs -- five from Cuyahoga County and one from Franklin County.

Mr. Husted said he is following the same rules used by prior administrations.

"If you are going to be 18 by the November election, you can vote, just not on every issue," he said. "That means 17-year-olds can vote in the primary, but only on the nomination of candidates to the general election ballot. They are not permitted to elect candidates, which is what voters are doing in a primary when they elect delegates to represent them at their political party's national convention, or vote on issues like school, police, and fire levies."

Fair Elections' counsel Jon Sherman said: "Jennifer Brunner issued a directive in 2008 during that presidential election, and she did not exclude 17-year-olds from presidential primaries. Other secretaries of state have not taken the same interpretation Secretary Husted has.''

(c)2016 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)