Pa. teens say 17 should be primary number

March 14, 2008 7:50:48 PM PDT
Seventeen-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election should be able to vote in the corresponding primary, Pennsylvania high school students told state lawmakers on Friday. The students, speaking to members of the House State Government Committee, said that a pending bill to extend the vote would create more lifelong voters and allow teens to participate in the entire electoral process, not just the final decision.

"Without a vote in the primary, the candidate of my choice might not be on the ballot," said Jennifer Holt, 17, a senior at Masterman High School in Philadelphia.

The legislation, however, would not be enacted in time for the April 22 primary, said lead sponsor Rep. Richard Grucela, D-Northampton.

Grucela was one of several lawmakers to attend the hearing at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. A former 12th-grade civics teacher, Grucela said it's important to politically energize students.

"It's very relevant in their senior year," Grucela said.

"They could become part of what you are actually trying to teach them."

Eleven states already permit 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, and at least four others are considering it, said Tom Weaver, deputy secretary for administration at the Pennsylvania Department of State. Gov. Ed Rendell supports the idea, he added.

There were about 184,000 17-year-olds in the state in 2006, according to Weaver. The legislation, if passed, would have enfranchised between 100,000 and 120,000 of them, he said.

But Weaver also noted that the bill would need to address 17-year-olds who register as independents. They could not vote in party primaries, but might still want to vote on ballot referendums, he said.

Weaver also raised the possibility that a state constitutional amendment might be required to change the voting age, a lengthy process that he said would cost about $2 million.

Tara Young, of the Maryland-based election advocacy group Fair Vote, told lawmakers that some states allow 17-year-olds to vote simply by agreement of the political party organizations. Committee chairwoman Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, said that possibility would be explored at another hearing.

Masterman High School junior Christopher Carroll said the legislation is incomplete because it does not address 17-year-olds' ability to contribute to campaigns or serve as delegates. Those activities are limited to 18-year-olds in some instances, he said.

Other students supported the bill wholeheartedly, spurred in part by the excitement of the Democratic presidential nomination race between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

"It is impossible to ignore the political vibe that resonates inside the classrooms and hallways of my high school," said Luke Secosky, a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh.

Other hearings are planned in the coming months in the Easton and Pittsburgh areas.


Load Comments