Will controversy on 17-year-old voters end soon?

Posted at 7:51 PM, Mar 09, 2016

It's considered a rite of passage to be able to vote once you're 18. And if you don’t quite make the cut once the primary rolls around, typically you've been allowed to still go to the polls.

But controversy is brewing about if that is actually legal or not.

“It’s kind of crappy, it’s my voice that needs to be heard too,” said Kati Miller, a senior at Manchester High School in Akron.

She's also 17 years old and won’t turn 18 until May. So when Secretary of State Jon Husted announced her age group won't be able to vote for a presidential nominee in the primary, she took action.

“I decided to write a letter. I thought if I could just send a lengthy email stating all my points, that I could get it across that way too.”

She's not the only one outraged. The fair elections legal network and multiple 17-year-old plaintiffs are suing the Secretary of State claiming the decision violates the state's Election Code.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has also filed a lawsuit over the same issue.

“The lawsuit I’ve seen from the Bernie Sanders campaign says that this is an attempt to disenfranchise groups of people who are entitled to protection under our constitution,” said David Carney, Law Professor at Case Western Reserve University.

But Husted claimed the law is on his side.

“We didn't make this up. This is the way it's been. There's nothing new here. This is my sixth year as secretary of state. Every primary that I've been involved in has been run by the same rules," he said.

By law, 17 year olds are not allowed to elect anyone into office, which is what the secretary claims they would be doing.  But, opposers say he’s misinterpreting that state law.

“Presidential primaries are strange,” said Carney. “The question is, when you select delegates, are you nominating somebody or are you electing an official? That’s what this fight’s about.”

Mike Ankrom, Senior Government Teacher at Manchester High School, said he just hopes the whole miscommunication gets worked out. “It’s a teaching moment, it’s a learning experience for all of us, however it turns out.”

For Kati, she said she won't stop until her voice is heard and change is made.

“I definitely feel overlooked and unimportant as if our opinions don’t matter, when in November they’re going to, so why can’t they matter now? So I want to do everything in my power to get my voice heard.”

With the primary being less than a week away, it’s a short time frame, but law experts said a judge could issue an order to have the Secretary of State count 17 year old’s votes. It is important to note that 17 year olds can still go out to the polls and vote in nominating contests like the senate race.