Last week, Illinois became at least the twentieth state to grant the right to vote to 17-year-olds.
House Bill 226, while not granting the right to vote to 17-year-olds in the general election, it does permit them to vote in Illinois primary elections as long as they will be eighteen by the November Election Day. The bill follows the assumption that if an 18-year-old can vote for the candidate in the general election, he or she should be able to vote in the primary that determines the general election candidate, even if the voter is still seventeen.
Introduced back in May by State Rep. Carol Sente and State Sen. Terry Link, both Democrats, House Bill 226 amends the Illinois Election Code. Part of the text of the bill reads:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person who is 17 years old on the date of a primary election and who is otherwise qualified to vote is qualified to vote at that primary."
The bill also allows 17-year-olds to vote by absentee ballot.
When Sente introduced her bill, she said:
"We are facing a crisis of political apathy in this state and across the country. Historically there is low turnout amongst voters age 18 to 24, and part of the problem could be a lack of experience. This measure will allow those who will be eligible to vote in a general election to have a voice in choosing their candidates in the primaries."
The bill passed the Illinois House 95-22 and the Senate 43-9. While reviewing all the other legislation that came to his desk at the end of a furious legislative session, Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill on the eve of Independence Day. He said of the legislation:
"Our democracy is strongest when more voters raise their voices at the ballot box. This new law will encourage young adults to take on their civic duties as soon as possible and make their voices heard in Illinois elections."
For Sente, the urge to introduce and pass this bill was personal, "My own birthday was two days after a primary, and I was disappointed I could not vote for the candidate I supported."
After its passage, Sente said:
"We are talking about young adults who are already voting for candidates in the general election, so I believe it's only fair to allow them to have a voice in who appears on the general election ballot."
Sente also revealed that the new law may also be a catalyst for leading young adults into a lifetime of voting:
"Hopefully, if we offer young adults this opportunity to have a greater say in the voting process, they will begin to form a habit of voting, participate in civics and contribute to the betterment of our state."
The new law will take effect on January 1 and could immediately be a factor in the 2014 congressional midterm elections.