Judge: 17-year-olds can vote in Ohio presidential primary

Nine teen voters had sued over Secretary of State Jon Husted's interpretation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio is 23 days into early voting and four days away from its Election Day, and a court ruling on Friday will shake up the voting process for some.

A Franklin County Common Pleas Court overruled a state law, allowing 17-year-olds vote in the swing state’s presidential primary.

There is around 900 registered 17-year-old voters in the Valley — around 400 in Mahoning County and around 400 in Trumbull County. Joyce Kale-Pesta, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, said those numbers are enough to make an impact in the elections.

“There’s a lot of young voters out there that are very excited to vote for their first time, especially for president,” she said. “Presidential elections always drive young voters.”

Ohio allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 before the fall election to vote in Tuesday’s primary, with some limits. For instance, they can’t vote on ballot issues, but can decide on congressional, legislative and mayoral contenders.

Whether the teens can vote in the presidential primary race had been under dispute, with nine teenage voters suing over Secretary of State Jon Husted’s interpretation of the law, saying that 17-year-olds can only nominate candidates, not elect delegates to a presidential nominating convention.

The judge granted the teens’ request to block Husted’s instructions that forbid the 17-year-olds from voting in the presidential primary.

Husted initially said he would appeal the ruling, then said for the sake of good elections, that he wouldn’t.

“I believe that Ohio law is clear and that my office has properly administered the law, just as previous Democrat and Republican Secretaries of State over the last two decades have done. However, upon learning that the 10th District Court of Appeals does not plan to hear an appeal on the lower court’s decision until the day before the election, even if we were to prevail, there is no effective way to responsibly make the changes necessary to implement an orderly election,” Husted said in a statement released Friday. “Our elections system needs more stability and less chaos. This last minute legislating from the bench on election law has to stop. As a result, we will not proceed with an appeal on this decision and I will direct all county boards of elections later this evening to comply with the court order.”

Two of the nine teens who were part of the lawsuit said they are amazed that their case has brought about a change.

“It was daunting at first, you know,” said Rachel Schwerdtfeger. “But, it feels amazing to be able to have this impact on the state of Ohio. It’s just so great.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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