Deaths of young soldiers in Vietnam helped give 18-year-olds the right to vote in America. Now, more than 40 years later, state Rep. Jeff Steinborn has momentum for his bill that would reduce the minimum age to vote in New Mexico primary elections. The state House of Representatives on Monday approved his bill allowing 17-year-olds to cast primary ballots if they will turn 18 by the general election. Steinborn, right, D-Las Cruces, has the bill a third of the way toward becoming law. It still has to get through the state Senate in the final three weeks of the legislative session, and then it would have to receive the signature of Gov. Susana Martinez. The House approved the measure 44-24, but one member who opposed it said the bill was on a path toward a veto by Martinez.
Rep. Nate Gentry, right, R-Albuquerque, said the New Mexico Constitution does not allow for those younger than 18 to vote in elections. Gentry said the legal means to change the system would be for Steinborn to sponsor a resolution that would send his proposal to state voters in 2014.
Steinborn, during debate on the House floor, said he believed his bill was on firm ground legally.
Nineteen states already allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, provided that they will be 18 by the November general election. Steinborn said this was a clear sign that his bill is not one that a court would overturn.
But Gentry said the other states either had less restrictive constitutions, or voters amended their constitutions to allow for the change accommodating 17-year-olds.
He said he would be inclined to support Steinborn’s idea if he proposed it as a resolution that legislators could refer to the ballot for a public vote. But the change Steinborn wants cannot be made through a bill simply approved by the state Legislature, Gentry said.