Sanders campaign sues Ohio over decision to bar 17 year-olds from presidential primary

Ohio secretary of state John Husted recently announced that, for the first time in 35 years, 17 year-olds who will be 18 by the time of this year’s general election will not be allowed to vote in the state’s presidential primaries next week.

While these voters will be allowed to vote in other primaries, such as those for US Senate or state legislative races, they will not be allowed to vote for president. This is because, according to Husted, 17 year-old voters are allowed to nominate candidates, but they aren’t allowed to directly elect officials. Presidential primary contests are direct elections of delegates, who then go on to nominate a presidential candidate on their voters’ behalf, which is a large enough distinction to constitute barring 17 year-olds from participating next week.

Bernie Sanders’s campaign has sued Husted over his decision, arguing that Ohio “arbitrarily” discriminated against black and Latino voters with his decision. From the New York Times:

Bernie Sanders, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Bernie Sanders, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Columbus. In a statement Tuesday night, Mr. Sanders, whose major strength has been among younger voters, claimed that Mr. Husted was carrying out an “unconstitutional attempt to block young voters” and was discriminatory because federal census data shows that young voters “are more heavily African-American and Latino than older groups of voters.”

It’s unlikely that Sanders’s lawsuit has legs (Husted, for his part, said that he welcomed it), but that doesn’t mean the ruling makes any sense.

Setting aside the logistical question of whether 17 year-olds who show up to vote for downballot primaries will receive a separate ballot without presidential candidates on it, or whether they’ll simply be trusted to not fill out the presidential portion of their ballot, Husted’s argument is supremely pedantic. As I wrote earlier this week, this is the same logic that leads the nerd at the front of your class to remind everyone that, actually, we don’t vote for president; we vote for electors to the Electoral College who elect the president on our behalf. In both cases, the names on the ballot are for presidential candidates. Just because there are middlepeople involved doesn’t mean we’re actually casting votes for someone else.

In any case, if Sanders is going to get this decision reversed, he’s going to have to move fast. Ohio votes in six days.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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