On the eve of the 4th of July, Governor Pat Quinn today signed legislation that will increase access to democracy across Illinois by giving 17-year-olds the ability to vote in primary elections if they are 18 years old by the general election date. Today's action is part of Governor Quinn's agenda to increase participation in our democracy and ensure that every voice is heard in Illinois.
"Our democracy is strongest when more voters raise their voices at the ballot box," Governor Quinn said. "This new law will encourage young adults to take on their civic duties as soon as possible and make their voices heard in all Illinois elections."
Sponsored by State Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) and State Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), House Bill 226 amends the Election Code by revising the qualifications of voters. The bill allows a 17-year-old the ability to vote during a primary election if he or she will be 18-years-old on the date of the immediately following general election. According to FairVote, 20 other states permit 17-year-olds to vote in the primary election.
"We are talking about young adults who are already voting for candidates in the general election, so I believe it's only fair to allow them to have a voice in who appears on the general election ballot," Rep. Sente said. "Hopefully, if we offer young adults this opportunity to have a greater say in the voting process, they will begin to form a habit of voting, participate in civics and contribute to the betterment of our state."
"My own birthday was two days after a primary, and I was disappointed I could not vote for the candidate I supported," Sen. Link said. "I believe this gives 17-year-olds the opportunity to vote in the primary and possibly result in more voter participation."
Governor Quinn signed the bill at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. The bill was proposed and pushed by civics teacher Andy Conneen and students from the school.
"Civics teachers from across the state have been working to make sure all general election voters have a voice in Illinois primaries, even at age 17," Conneen said. "We're excited that Governor Quinn has now made Illinois the largest state to empower all of its newest voters in primary elections to help grow a more active citizenship."
"Now it's up to us, students at Stevenson and across the state, to take advantage of this law by getting engaged in local, state and national elections," said Neli Farahmandpour, an SHS student who helped spearhead the effort to pass the bill. "I cannot wait to participate in the process of voting next March, with all other students who will be able to vote in the general election, to ensure that voting will become a lifelong habit."
The new law takes effect Jan. 1.