Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders attend his campaign rally at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio, March 11, 2016. 
Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Sanders campaign praises Ohio ruling that allows 17-year-olds to vote

An Ohio court ruled on Friday that 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the November general election are eligible to vote in the state’s primary on March 15.

“This is a huge victory for 17-year-olds across Ohio,” said Brad Deutsch, Bernie Sanders’ campaign attorney said after the ruling. “Their votes for presidential nominees will now count when they vote on either Tuesday or over the weekend in early voting.”

Sanders’ campaign, which has a strong young voter base, filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, in federal court on Tuesday. The suit argued that Husted is trying to prevent young voters from participating in the primary election. The Sanders federal case is still pending.

With the help of new and young voters, Sanders is hoping to pull off another political upset in Ohio. His unexpected win over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Michigan’s primary was steered by his popularity with young voters. The NBC News Exit Poll of the primary found that voters between ages 18 and 29 represented 19 percent of the Michigan electorate, and 81 percent of them voted for Sanders.

According to FairVote, a voting-rights advocacy group, at least 20 other states allow 17-year-olds to vote in presidential primaries or caucuses.

Under Ohio state law since 1981, 17-year-olds who turn 18 before the general election had been eligible to vote in the primary. But in December, Husted published a revised election manual stating that 17-year-olds were not permitted to vote in presidential primaries because voters elect delegates to the party convention.

Husted blasted the court’s decision and initially planned to appeal the ruling. But he reversed his promise after learning that a state appeals court would hear the case on Monday, the day before the primary.

“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 Friday. “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.”