Vt. mulls 17-year-olds voting in primaries

Vt. mulls 17-year-olds voting in primaries

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010 9:02 pm

By LISA RATHKE
Associated Press Writer
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — When Vermonters go to the polls in November to pick a new governor, they’ll also decide whether the state should allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections.
A proposed constitutional amendment would permit them to do so if they’ll turn 18 by the date of the general election.
The idea is to get young people involved in voting, said Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, which heard from young people who want to be able to vote.
“This was a way of helping young people who really want to get involved in the election be included,” she said Wednesday.
But town clerks are opposed to the ballot item because it has too many unanswered questions, said Alison Kaiser, the town clerk in Stowe and president of the Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association. For one, 17-year-olds can’t legally take an oath, which is required to vote.
It’s also unclear if 17-year-olds would be allowed to vote on local issues, which sometimes come up in primary elections, Kaiser said. If they can’t, separate ballots would have to be printed for those young voters at a cost to municipalities.
“Amending the Constitution is significant enough that you don’t just vote an issue and say, ‘Well, we’ll figure it out later,’ and that’s essentially what’s happening here,” she said.
Ten other states allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in primary elections, as long as they turn 18 by general election day, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. The other states are Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Iowa lets the 17-year-olds participate in presidential caucuses.
The Vermont secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, does not have a position on the proposal, said Deputy Secretary of State William Dalton. But Jason Gibbs, a Republican candidate for that office, and Kaiser, whose organization represents 180 town clerks, think there hasn’t been enough discussion of it.
“Voters have a right to know what will be presented to them on the general election ballot and to have time to consider and discuss the ramifications of amending our state’s most influential guiding document,” Gibbs said.
The state Constitution requires that amendments to it be approved by two legislatures and at a public referendum.
Legislators thought they had addressed town clerks’ concerns. If not, they can be worked out, Sweaney said.
“We felt that it would be fine to put it forward to see what the people … think,” she said.

Published in The Messenger 9.23.10

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