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Editorial: An interesting effort to expand ballot access

State politicians across the country, including in New Hampshire, have spent the past few years debating a variety of ways to limit access to the ballot box – various forms of voter ID requirements, limiting hours and polling places, changing same-day registration rules and more. That context makes it all the more encouraging that there are two state legislators in New Hampshire actually working in the opposite direction: a plan to expand access to the voting booth.

When the Legislature returns in January, one of the proposals on their agenda will be a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by November to vote in that year’s primary elections. The idea sounds sort of random until you think about it a bit: The target audience are those teenagers who will have the right to vote in November but – without the change – get no say in whose names appear on that general election ballot. If you consider party primary elections part of that year’s total election process, why not let them participate in the entire operation?

There are other sound reasons to expand the franchise to nearly-18-year-olds. Most will still be in high school and, presumably, discussing the year’s political matches in class; the opportunity to actually vote in the elections they’re learning about will make the classroom lessons that much more relevant.

More broadly, any opportunity to encourage young people to start a lifelong habit of voting is worth trying. In many elections, young people are often the least represented demographic at the polls. Hooking teenagers on participating – especially when classroom teachers can help persuade them – may create diligent voters later in life.

The amendment, sponsored by Nashua Reps. Joel Winters and Michael Garcia, isn’t a radical change. In fact, across the country at least 20 states, including Maine, Vermont and Connecticut, allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and caucuses. (In some states, where the political parties, rather than state governments, control the early voting, the rules are peculiar: Several state Democratic parties, for instance, allow 17-year-olds to participate in party caucuses but their Republican counterparts do not.)

Elsewhere, election officials have gone even further. Austria, Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom, for instance, have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds for national, regional or local elections. Studies in Austria show that the move promoted higher voter turnout for first-time voters, according to FairVote, a U.S. organization that promotes ballot access. The small city of Takoma Park, Md., officials recently extended the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds for municipal elections, and there are advocates of lowering the voting age nationally to 16 – in line with the age at which most states allow teenagers to drive cars.

The New Hampshire proposal to allow some 17-year-olds to participate in primary elections will need a three-fifths majority vote in the Legislature and, if successful, the support of a two-thirds of voters at the polls next November. That’s a high bar, but it’s hard to imagine too many good arguments against such a change. We encourage lawmakers to get behind it.

Legacy Comments3

this proposal brought to you by 2 democrats from Nashua should be shelved along with other democrat proposals like democrats proposing a fine for releasing a balloon and the democrats proposal to require red swim hats in NH waters. Until NH can enforce voter ID and resident only voting there is no need for this kind of nonsense from the democrats

Since the vast majority of educators are extremely liberal, of course the Monitor would be behind this. For every history / political science teacher, another 20 or so Democratic votes. Nope. I had no idea in 2008 when I kept my 17 year old out of school to take her to Manchester to see the presidential primary hoopla on primary election day that it would translate to her choosing political science as a college major. She had shown little interest in politics through most of high school. Perhaps involving kids in some of the election stuff would help?

I have a suggestion that I hope the editorial writers will accept, concerning vocabulary. Ever since the 1930's, the term "ballot access" has meant the ability of candidates and parties to get on ballots. This good editorial is not about "ballot access" as the term has been understood. This editorial is about voting rights, and I hope future editorials and articles about voting rights (i.e., the ability of a voter to vote) will just use the term "voting rights". Otherwise we have one term for two different problems. New Hampshire does have a ballot access problem. It is far too difficult for minor party candidates to get on the New Hampshire ballot. The Green Party has not been able to get its presidential candidate on the ballot in New Hampshire at either of the last three presidential elections, for example. The only other states in which the Green Party has not been able to be on the ballot for president during any of the last 3 elections are Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming (only 7 states).

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