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Threshold voter laws foster participation, democracy

Credit: Maegha Singh/Art Editor Credit: Maegha Singh/Art Editor

The 2016 presidential election, set for Nov. 8, will see many young individuals voting for the first time in a presidential election, but not all of these individuals will have had the opportunity to vote in their state’s primary or caucus. In many states, including Pennsylvania, age restrictions require citizens to be 18 years old to vote in their party’s corresponding primary or caucus, meaning that 17-year-old citizens are unable to vote in their primary or caucus, even if they will be 18 before the general election.

Laws have already been passed in many states that allow 17-year-olds to vote in their respective primary or caucus provided they will turn 18 before the general election. 17-year-olds can vote in primaries and caucuses in the District of Columbia and over 20 states, although several of these states are only open to 17-year-old Democrats.

Threshold voter laws have become a controversial topic, and many argue that if someone is able to vote in the general election, they should have some say in their party’s nominee.

Threshold voter laws in Pennsylvania’s neighboring state of Ohio have been under scrutiny this year after Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced in December that threshold voters would no longer be allowed to participate in the Ohio primary. Husted has since been overruled, and the courts ruled on March 11 that threshold voters could continue to participate in the primaries.

The issue of threshold voters has also been raised in Pennsylvania, namely in a 2007 proposed bill sponsored by then State Rep. Richard Grucela (D–Northampton). State Rep. Robert Freeman (D–Northampton) also supported the bill, noting that it would encourage young voters to get involved and stay involved. “If we engage them now, there’s a greater likelihood they’ll stay involved for the rest of their lives,” Freeman said. While the proposed bill was supported by many, some argued that the focus should be on more important issues such as voter fraud. Despite the support of a variety of potential threshold voters, some of whom testified during a House State Government Committee hearing, the bill did not pass.

Currently, Pennsylvania still requires all voters to be 18, although there is some speculation that this could change. Wanda Murren, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of State, acknowledged that the Department of State is looking into threshold voter laws. “The department is currently reviewing how other states are handling this,” Murren said, although she noted that even if changes were made, they would not affect this year’s primary.
Although threshold voters will not be able to participate in this year’s primaries, The Tartan hopes that the recent focus on threshold voting laws in Pennsylvania will persist and that laws allowing threshold voters to participate in primaries in Pennsylvania will be enacted.

It is important to promote participation among young voters in general elections, but it is unfair t ask first-time voters to support candidates that they didn’t have a hand in choosing. If we want threshold voters to participate in the general election, it is important that they be allowed to influence the candidate their party nominates.

These voters are more likely to participate in the general election if they feel that their voice has been heard in the primary, and cultivating an engaged, voting youth is vital to a maintaining a vibrant democracy.

Allowing threshold voters to participate in their states’ primaries and caucuses will also promote a sense of participation and will allow all first-time voters to have a stake in the candidate their respective party nominates.

Fostering this sense of involvement in young voters is important, as it produces youth that are politically aware. It has been shown that once a person votes they are more likely to vote again, so ensuring the participation of young voters is critical.

The Pennsylvania primaries are right around the corner, so this issue is in urgent need of attention. The Tartan hopes that Pennsylvania, along with other states who require all voters to be 18 years of age, will realize the importance of youth participation in politics and allow threshold voters to participate in primaries and caucuses.