Ohio must let 17-year-olds vote in the state’s March 15 primary, if they turn 18 by Election Day, a judge ruled in a boost to Bernie Sanders. Sanders’s surprise win over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary this week was driven in part by his popularity with younger voters, many of whom are attracted to his call for an economic revolution against the wealthy elite. Sanders got the support of 81 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the Michigan primary, according to CNN’s exit polls. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, reinterpreted a decades-old law by describing the primary as an election of delegates, rather than a nomination. Ohio doesn’t let voters under 18 directly elect people, Husted said. That was a misinterpretation of the law, Franklin County Court Judge Richard A. Frye said in a ruling Friday.
“The secretary has a clear legal duty to promptly advise all 88 county Boards of Election to disregard his previous interpretation” of the law, Frye said. The complaint was filed by students and the Fair Elections Legal Network. It wasn’t affiliated with any candidate or political party.
A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, earlier on Friday declined to rule in a parallel case filed by Sanders until after the state court judge ruled. While Sanders wasn’t involved in the state court case, both suits made the same argument. “This is a huge victory for 17-year-olds across Ohio. Their votes for presidential nominees will now count when they vote on either Tuesday or over the weekend in early voting,” Brad Deutsch, attorney for the Sanders campaign, said in a statement.
Ohio, a key general election swing state, is among about two dozen states that allow threshold voters to cast primary ballots to increase turnout among young adults. Ohio’s law was passed in 1981, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in all the recent primaries, Sanders said in his complaint.