'It's only fair': New law allows 17-year-olds to vote in primaries

News-DemocratJanuary 31, 2014 

AP GRAPHIC

— John Burns and Chad Lidisky didn't wait until they could vote before they got involved in politics.

But once they were able to do so, they were among the first in line to register for their voter cards.

A new Illinois law permits 17-year-olds to register and vote in a primary election if they will be 18 by the general election in November. It took effect on Jan. 1, and both students went to register at the county clerks' offices on Jan. 2.

John was waiting at the Madison County Clerk's office when it opened on Jan. 2. "It really means a lot to me that I can vote now," he said. "A lot of the decisions they're making have an effect on people my age. We will be around for a long time, and their decisions affect us and our future families."

John is a senior at Granite City High School and intends to major in political science when he goes to college. But he didn't wait for his voter registration card to get involved: during the 2012 election he volunteered 20 hours a week on the campaign by U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville.

Likewise, Chad volunteered for Republican Jason Plummer's campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010, as well as the mayoral elections of his hometown of Shiloh. And on Jan. 2, he showed up at the St. Clair County Clerk's office to register.

Chad said he considers it important to stay active and informed on the issues, as well as supporting and volunteering for candidates.

"My eventual dream is to run for the U.S. Congress," Chad said.

That will have to wait just a while longer, as he's a junior at O'Fallon Township High School. He has not decided on a college yet, but is looking at St. Louis University School of Law as his top choice.

Chad will turn 18 in September and John in April. Both were supporters of the legislation granting them the right to vote in the primary -- John was watching the bill through the state House and Senate and hoping for it to pass. Both were hoping it would encourage other teenagers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

In fact, the Granite City Social Studies Club -- of which John is treasurer -- will hold a voter registration drive for students in early February.

"It's only fair and just to give the teens who will vote for these candidates the right to help pick which candidates they will have the option to vote for," Chad said. "Government and politics ... will affect us throughout our entire lives, and affect us now in real and serious ways."

Cameron Stewart of Edwardsville registered to vote at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Mount Joy Baptist Church last month. The League of Women Voters and Edwardsville NAACP were holding a voter registration drive, focusing on the young people. Cameron will turn 18 on Oct. 9, just in time for the general election, and looks forward to voting for the first time in March.

"That's pretty good," he said.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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