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Court Blocks Ohio Secretary of State’s Effort to Suppress Youth Vote

An Ohio Common Pleas Judge has ordered Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to allow lawfully registered 17-year old Ohio voters who will be 18-years of age at the time of the November 8, 2016 general election to vote in the March 15, 2016 primary election.

The sequence of events was laid out in a separate complaint that Sen. Bernie Sanders and others filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Ohio is one of more than 20 states that have passed what is known as a “Threshold Voter Law.”  The Ohio statute, which was passed in 1981, expressly affords “every qualified elector who is or will be on the day of the next general election eighteen or more years of age” the right to vote in the primary election.  In 2008, Ohio’s then Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner issued a Directive.  It clarified that 17-year old electors could vote for nominees for the November general election ballot, but could not vote for ballot measures that were specific to the primary election.

In December, as a strikingly high percentage of Millennials were joining the Sanders-led political revolution, Husted revised Ohio’s Election Manual in an effort to prevent Threshold Voters from participating in the March 15, 2016 primary.  He reasoned that since the primaries produce a slate of delegates, 17-year olds cannot participate.  Sanders, and others, argued this was a mere “pretext” designed to violate the express language of Ohio’s statutes.  Under Ohio law, the ballots only list the names of the candidates, not the delegates.

The ruling comes in the separate state court case that was filed by the Fair Election Networks. Attorney Brad Deutsch, who represents the Sanders campaign, described the ruling as a “huge victory,” adding:

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The judge further admonished the Secretary of State for abusing his discretion by prohibiting 17-year olds from voting for presidential candidates and not only directed the Secretary to instruct poll workers to allow 17-year olds to vote but also instructed them to make a reasonable effort to attempt to determine and record choices that have already been made by any 17-year old who already voted in early voting.

Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie.  He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977.  In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science.  Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing