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Plan To Let Some 17-Year-Olds Vote In Primaries Fails In House

May 4, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

A move to amend the state constitution to allow some 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections fell nine votes short Thursday of the number needed to place the question before voters next year.

The House of Representatives voted 105-36 in favor of the resolution. But 114 affirmative votes - a super-majority of the 141 members voting - were necessary to place the amendment on municipal ballots in 2008.

The amendment, if ultimately adopted, would allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 before a general election to vote in the local, state or national primary leading up to that election. Currently, 17-year-olds are only allowed to preregister for general elections. The earliest that the amendment resolution could be reconsidered by the legislature is in 2009, too late for the 2008 presidential election.

Following the House vote, members of the Connecticut Young Democrats charged six House Republicans of flip-flopping at the last minute to sabotage the resolution.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, and Republicans Michael Caron of Killingly, Themis Klarides of Derby, David Labriola of Naugatuck, David Scribner of Brookfield and John Ryan of Darien each changed their "yes" votes to "no" when it appeared the measure would pass, according to Lon Seidman, co-president of the young Democrats group.

"There was some confusion about how many votes were needed for it to pass," Seidman said. "But this was not a matter of ... people changing their mind, it was clearly an effort to kill it."

Cafero and Ryan could not be reached for comment late Thursday. Neither could the House Republican Chief of Staff George Gallo, or the House Republicans' press secretary, Pat O'Neil.

Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex and one of the measure's co-sponsors, said he would like to see the state constitution changed to allow eligible 17-year olds to vote in a primary.

"If they are going to vote in the general election, let's let them have a choice in selecting the candidates," Spallone said Thursday.

The resolution still must go before the Senate, where it is expected to pass. If it does, state law requires that the issue automatically be taken up again in 2009 after a new General Assembly is elected.

Only a simple majority vote would be required of both chambers for it to pass in 2009. The resolution would be placed on local referendum ballots in 2010. If it is approved statewide by simple majority, 17-year-olds would become eligible to vote in primary elections in 2011.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who supports the effort, said that about 10,000 of the state's approximately 45,000 17-year-olds would become eligible to vote in a local, state or national primary if the amendment passes. Nine states already have passed measures allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, most recently Maine, she said. The others are Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

"It has been more than 35 years since we lowered the voting age to 18, and I argue it's time to tweak it again," Bysiewicz said Thursday.

Supporters of the measure believe that allowing 17-year-olds greater access to the electoral process will increase voter turnout among young people and their parents, supplement civics curriculums in local high schools and fix an inequity in state law that allows 17-year-olds to enlist in the armed services but denies them the right to vote.

The measure limits voting by 17-year-olds to primary elections. It would not allow them to vote at local town meetings or in local referendums.

State Rep. Pamela Z. Sawyer, R-Bolton, opposed the resolution. She said 18 is the more appropriate age for young people to enter the electoral process.

"It's an honor to vote," Sawyer said during the House debate. "I think you should study the issues before you vote, study the candidates before you vote. Some things are worth waiting for. It's a rite of passage. Eighteen is 18 is 18."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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