Given the chance to vote for the first time in the March primary, 17 year olds turned out at a higher rate in Cook County than voters old enough to be their parents, according to a new study released today. A state law allowed 17 year olds who’d turn 18 by the general election to vote in the primary and elections officials and representatives of several civic groups, including the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the League of Women Voters of Chicago, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Mikva Challenge, engaged in a short-term intensive registration and education effort aimed at schools across Chicago and Cook County. As a result, more than 7,000 eligible 17-year-olds registered to vote in the city and suburban Cook County, officials said. Their turnout of about 15 percent in the very-low turnout March 18 primary exceeded turnout among 20-to-40-year-olds.
In Chicago specifically, 17-year-old women turned out at a rate of 18.5 percent of those who registered, exceeding every succeeding age group up to 54-year-old women. Among 17-year-old males, turnout was 14.9 percent in the city, exceeding succeeding age groups up to males age 48 who turned out at 15 percent.
Overall, women age 62-to-77 had the highest overall voter participation rates, both in the 2012 general election, a presidential-contest year, and in the 2014 primary, city election results showed. Men age 63-to-80 had the highest overall voting rates for the same elections, the study showed.
Still, the raw numbers are relatively small. In Chicago, 3,454 there were 17-year-olds registered, while Chicago Public School data shows about 29,000 city public school students were eligible to sign up to vote in the primary.
Supporters of the effort said the younger that a person engages in voting, the more likely they will continue to vote.