As she juggles Advanced Placement classes and baby-sitting three nights a week during her final semester of high school, Neli Farahmandpour is researching candidates and where they stand on issues she cares about, like the cost of state college tuition and public schools funding. She won’t turn 18 until after this month’s primary election, but she’ll get to vote under a new state law that allows most 17-year-olds in Illinois to cast a ballot. “It’s not illogical,” said Farahmandpour, during a recent comparative politics class at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. “If you’re going to be picking the big players (in November), then why not be able to pick the ones that are going to be in the big election?” Advocates say the change allows youth to develop voting habits early, a key to ensuring they turn into lifelong voters. Critics have questioned whether teens are engaged enough to cast meaningful votes.
While it remains to be seen how many 17-year-olds turn out to vote on March 18, more than 9,000 of them have registered to do so in the city and suburbs, helped in many cases by clerk’s offices partnering with school districts to host registration drives.
At Stevenson High, more than 400 17- and 18-year-olds registered during the school year. Last year, teachers and students at the north suburban school proposed a bill to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections as long as they turned 18 by the November general election. It’s now law.
Recruiting teens interested in the election process has been easy, since they see voting as a sign of adulthood, said civics teacher Andrew Conneen, who helped the students get the bill passed.