Bill extends voting privileges to 17-year-olds; requires constitutional amendment

in New Paltz, N.Y., on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)


A bill passed by the Assembly would allow teenagers who will be 18 by the time of a presidential election to vote in primaries.

The bill is aimed at promoting participation in the electoral process by 17-year-olds who will turn 18 years old in a presidential election year. Those teenagers would need to turn 18 by Election Day to be eligible to vote in the primary.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick, D-Staten Island, has been introduced for the last three legislative sessions, but has yet to pass both houses. The change would require a constitutional amendment, so the bill would need to be passed by the full Legislature in two consecutive years before the public gets to vote on the measure.

On March 30, the bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 104-38 and will now be considered by the state Senate. It is sponsored there (S.3242) by Sen. Diane Savion, D-Staten Island.

“The right to vote is the most fundamental tenet of our democracy and as such, the right to vote in primary elections should be open to all citizens who will be eligible to vote in the corresponding general election” Cusick said. “If you are eligible to vote in the general election, you should have the right to vote for which candidate will appear on the ballot.”

This year, the Ohio Attorney General sued to have a similar law overturned in his state, only to see it upheld by a federal court, lending legitimacy to the bill being considered in New York.

In the 2012 presidential election cycle, voter turnout among young people aged 18 to 29 was 40 percent, and in the 2014 midterm elections, a dismal 16 percent.

“Voter participation rates among our young people are alarmingly low in all elections. We should be doing everything we can to encourage higher turnout among all voters,” Cusick said.

In the bill’s memo, the sponsors write that voting is a basic obligation of being a United States citizen, and it only makes sense to get young people involved in the election process. They also note that the bill would address a “shocking inequity” in the laws that allow a 17-year-old to enlist in the armed forces and fight in a war but not have the ability to vote.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa, represents Fort Drum in her North Country district and recognizes the contributions and sacrifices being made by 17-year-olds who enlist in the Armed Forces, but can’t vote in a presidential primary. She voted for the bill when it was passed by the Assembly on March 30.

“My own district already benefits from decisions that are being made by 17-year-olds [who] make a decision to serve our country,” Russell said. “Allowing them to help select the [presidential] candidates … in that November’s election is simply the right thing to do,” she said.

The grass roots group “Rock the Vote” has expanded its campaign to high school seniors and supports voting in presidential primaries if 17-year-olds will turn 18 by the general election. About half of the states in the U.S. allow 17-year-old primary voting. Other states allow 17-year-old primary voting in a presidential year, which is the specific goal of the Cusick-Savino bill.