Gov. Pat Quinn and other prospective governor candidates next year might be targeting a new voting group during the Democratic and Republican primary elections: 17-year-olds.
The Senate on Wednesday sent to the governor a measure to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections, but only if they turn 18 by the November general election.
There is no change, though, to the voting age for general elections, which remains restricted to individuals who are 18 or older on Election Day. The measure, which overwhelmingly cleared the House last month, passed the Senate 43-9.
The 17-year-olds could vote in person as well as absentee, during a grace period, or an early voting ballot with respect to that primary.
Sponsoring Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, suggested many first-time voters are “well informed of what’s going on” but because of their birthdates may not get a say which candidates come out of the primary.
“I think they should have the opportunity to vote for the people that will represent them in the general election,” Link said. “I think this is a positive step forward to getting more voter participation.”Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Downstate Mattoon, questioned why primaries should be treated differently from the fall elections. Righter said “keeping the playing field level” in both the primary and general elections in terms of who gets to vote is important since in some areas the primary automatically decides who wins in November
Righter called voting “much more of a privilege” and “more of a duty, quite frankly” rather than a right.
“Sometimes we fail younger people not because of what we don’t provide for them or give them but because of what we don’t expect of them,” he said. “We’ve determined in this state that 18 years is the appropriate age for someone to exercise their ability to vote. I don’t think we ought to make a distinction despite of its well intention.”