Judge hears dispute involving Ohio's youngest primary voters

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2016 6:29 PM
Judge hears dispute involving Ohio's youngest primary voters

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Allowing 17-year-old Ohioans to vote in the swing state's presidential primary would cause "mass confusion" days before the election, an attorney for the state's elections chief told a judge Thursday.

But an attorney for nine teen voters claimed her clients have a right to vote in Tuesday's primary.

The arguments before the Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge came in a lawsuit over a policy for the state's youngest voters.

Ohio law allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 before the fall election to vote in the primary, with some exceptions. The young 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.

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 primary "because delegates are elected and not nominated."

Nine 17-year-old registered voters from central Ohio are suing Husted over his interpretation of the law. They claim the elections chief's directions violate their voting rights and run counter to the state constitution and court decisions.

The newbie voters want Judge Richard Frye to issue an emergency order blocking Husted's instructions that forbid them to vote in the presidential primary.

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

Complicating matters is that early voting has been underway in Ohio for weeks.

Chad Readler, an attorney for Husted, said the plaintiffs' request "would create mass confusion at the boards of election." He told the judge that some 17-year-olds' ballots were already being processed by local elections officials.

"It's too late to unscramble the egg, essentially," Readler said.

Frye noted that 17-year-old voters can still cast ballots through Election Day.

"What about the eggs that are not yet scrambled if we haven't yet broken the shells on them?" he replied.

The teens' attorney, Rachel Bloomekatz, also noted there may be some 17-year-old voters who were told they could not vote in the race and didn't.

"But just because early voting has been underway for a bit doesn't mean that we should deny the rest of all of these 17-year-olds the right to vote," she told the court.

A ruling from Frye could come as soon as Friday.

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

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.