Hearing set on Ohio's youngest primary voters

Posted at 3:19 PM, Mar 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 15:26:56-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A judge planned to hear arguments Thursday in a dispute over whether the swing state's youngest voters can have a say in next week's presidential primary race.

State law allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 before the fall election to vote in Tuesday's primary.

But a manual for elections officials issued last year by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted says 17-year-olds can vote "solely on the nomination of candidates" - and not in the presidential contest "because delegates are elected and not nominated."

A Washington, D.C.-based voting rights organization is suing Husted on behalf of nine 17-year-old registered voters from central Ohio. The plaintiffs claim the elections chief's directions violate the voting rights of the new voters and run counter to the state constitution and court decisions.

A Franklin County judge is holding a hearing Thursday on the teens' request for an emergency order to block Husted's instructions from being in effect. A ruling could come as soon as Friday.

Husted says Ohio has operated under the same rules in past primaries, and the law is clear.

"There is nothing new here," Husted said in a statement this week. "If you are going to be 18 by the November election, you can vote, just not on every issue."

Separately, Democrat Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has filed a federal lawsuit over the limitations.

Young Ohio voters can decide on congressional, legislative and mayoral contenders but can't vote on tax levies, ballot issues or a political party's central committee candidates.

At least 20 other states allow 17-year-olds to vote in presidential primaries or caucuses, though rules sometimes vary based on political party, according to FairVote, an organization that tracks electoral issues.