An Ohio judge ruled earlier today that 17 year-olds who will turn 18 before this year’s general election are allowed to vote in next week’s presidential primary. The ruling reversed a decision made by Ohio secretary of state John Husted, who had held that this subset of the electorate was allowed to vote in state and local primaries, but not the presidential primary — basically because he said so.
His argument was highly technical, to say the least.
Husted had argued that because voters don’t “nominate” presidential candidates, but instead directly elect delegates to nominating conventions, these contests are different from traditional nominating procedures, and are therefore interpreted differently under Ohio law. Using this distinction, Husted argued that the law allowed 17 year-olds to “nominate” state and local candidates, but they were not allowed to “elect” delegates to presidential nominating conventions. This argument was news to voters in Ohio, which has allowed 17 year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day to vote in presidential primaries since 1981. As the Columbus Dispatch last week, Ohio law is perfectly clear that 17 year-olds are allowed to vote in this situation, and the relevant section “makes no exception for presidential primaries.”
Husted’s argument also inverts the concept of direct elections, using the same logic as I would be using if I said that we don’t actually “elect” a president, but instead we “elect” electors to the Electoral College who elect the president for us. Not only does that describe an indirect process, but it’s also pedantic to the point of absurdity. It certainly couldn’t be used as an argument on which to base decisions about who gets to participate in the general election.
The lawsuit was brought in a common pleas court by nine 17 year-olds who will be old enough to vote in the presidential election this November, in conjunction with a voting rights advocacy organization. Bernie Sanders’s campaign had filed a separate lawsuit in federal court, which seems to have been rolled into this one. Secretary Husted’s office has not yet said whether it will appeal this decision.
You can read the ruling here: