SIDNEY — The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming presidential primary is contagious for all voters but especially so for those 17-year-old voters who are eligible to vote in the March 15, 2016, primary.
According to Christopher R. Gibbs, Chairperson of the Shelby County Board of Elections, a 17-year-old “registered” voter who will be 18 years of age on or before the date of the general election on Nov. 8, 2016, may vote on the nomination, but not election of primary candidates. A 17-year-old registered voter who will be 18 on or before Nov. 8, 2016, cannot however vote on any candidacy for a state or county political party’s central committee, or any question or issue such as a school tax levy, charter amendment or local liquor option.
Gibbs concedes the process and procedure can be confusing, particularly now that a judgement was issued Friday evening, March 11, 2016, by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, in Schwerdtferger v. Husted, Case No. 16 CV 002346. The court action upends the way the Secretary of State and Boards of Elections handle 17-year-olds voting for presidential delegates.
Pursuant to the court’s Judgment, a 17-year-old voter who will be 18 on or before the Nov. 8, 2016, general election may vote for Presidential convention delegates and have those choices for Presidential convention delegates counted in the same fashion as voters age 18 and older.
“The way I remember this is the same way as I advise all who ask. If the race terminates in the primary on March 15, 2016, the 17-year-old voters are not eligible to vote that race. If the race is only a primary race and will not terminate until after the 17-year-old voter is 18 on or before Nov. 8, 2016, then, yes the 17-year-old’s vote will be counted in that race,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs gave the following examples: Any school levy that appears on the March 15, 2016 ballot cannot be voted on by a 17-year-old voter because that race will terminate and will be decided on March 15, 2016 or when the election is certified later in March. Any race for a House or Senate seat, regardless if it is statewide or national will be open for a 17-year-old to vote because that race (seat) will not terminate or be finally decided until the November general election.
“Of course the presidential contests are the same, but unfortunately even more cumbersome to think through particularly when judges wade into the process at the last minute as happened on Friday night,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs went on to explain that in Ohio voters elect delegates to each major Party’s convention. Those delegates then go on to each convention and follow what rules each major Party has established. Eligible 17-year-old voters will of course be able to vote for President in the November general election if they turn 18 on or before Nov. 8, 2016.
Gibbs reminded that prior to the court order late on Friday (March 11, 2016) Secretaries of States have always instructed Boards of Elections that 17-year-old voters could not vote for Presidential delegates because those races terminated.
“Election administration in a presidential year isn’t for the weak of heart”, said Gibbs.
One final opportunity for 17-year-old voters to get their feet wet in the election process is the “Youth at the Booth” program which is coordinated thru the local schools.
“This program is a great opportunity to give students an opportunity to get real life experience dealing with the public plus exposing them to the political process,” said Gibbs.
Any student or parent with questions about the 17-year-old voter process may contact the Board of Elections at 937-498-7207.