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State Government

Some can vote at age 17 in 2014 primary

The voting age for Illinois voters in the March 18 primary election was lowered to 17, provided they will be 18 by the time of the Nov. 4 general election in 2014.

On Wednesday, the Illinois House passed House Bill 226, 954-22, with one not voting, and the Illinois Senate passed the measure, 43-9, with seven not voting.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, the bill’s chief co-sponsor, supported voting rights for younger people as part of their civic education, and a means of getting them more civically engaged.

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham agreed.

“Any time we can get young people interested in voting – that is good. And I’m in favor of it,” Cunningham said. “We can use juniors in high school as election judges, so this is just added on to that. Let’s give kids who are old enough a chance to register, and hopefully they’ll get in the habit of voting at that age.”

Cunningham said there were still ambiguities in the bill that would need some work, but for the moment, it is geared for an election cycle with a primary race. 

Director of Elections Suzanne Fahnestock said the clerk’s office will be preparing for having more voters during the 2014 election cycle.

State Sens. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, both voted no; Assistant Senate Republican Leader Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, voted yes.

State Reps. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, and Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, also voted no; Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, did not vote; and Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, voted yes.

Fortner said he supported the measure because it was consistent with court rulings on the state’s election cycles.

“We can think of the primary election and the general election as part of the same cycle, and Illinois courts have held that as well,” Fortner said.

The Illinois Supreme Court decided in a case on party switching that a person who voted one way in a primary could not be added to another party’s slate in the general election, Fortner said. In another case, the court ruled that someone who voted in a township election could run the next year as a member of the opposite party because they were separate elections.

Hatcher said her choice not to vote either way was a reflection of her concern about voting standards: That if a 17-year-old can vote in a primary, then voting at 18 is not so special anymore.

“In a  democracy, you want to make sure that it’s participatory,” Hatcher said. “I’m beginning to be concerned about more and more standards being diluted to the point where it [voting] becomes no more special than going to the grocery store.”

In 1972, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowered the nation’s voting age from 21 to 18.

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