Seventeen-year-olds who turn 18 before the November 2014 general election will be able to vote in the March primary, under an Illinois law enacted Wednesday.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law, dubbed "Suffrage at 17" by its champions, at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Government teacher Andrew Conneen and many of his students have lobbied for the proposal for years.
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Conneen, students and others looked on as Quinn signed the law on the running track outside the school. Behind him, the scoreboard clock read 2:26, the official number of the House bill.
Quinn talked about being seated next to Conneen on a flight to Denver for the 2008 Democratic Party convention. He was lieutenant governor at the time.
During the flight, Conneen talked about giving some 17-year-olds voting rights. The goal, Conneen explained, is to allow teens who are old enough to vote in a general election to choose who should be on that ballot through the earlier, partisan primary contests.
Quinn liked the idea.
"You ought to have a chance to help nominate the candidates of your choice in the spring," he told the crowd Wednesday.
Quinn praised Conneen and his students, who had traveled to Springfield to push for the legislation, for fighting for the bill.
"(They) never gave up," Quinn said.
Supporters hope the new rights get more young people involved in the political process, regardless of whether the candidates they support are Democrats or Republicans.
"Younger voters historically don't make up a large portion of (voters), and we need to change that," said state Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican who was among the proposal's most fervent backers in the Capitol.
Sullivan joined Quinn at the signing, as did state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, and state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat.
The proposal had bipartisan support in Springfield. But some Republicans were hesitant to give younger people more voting rights for fear they'd lean Democratic, Sullivan said.
Sente inherited interest in the proposal from her predecessor, ex-lawmaker Kathy Ryg of Vernon Hills.
She spoke with some lawmakers who had constitutional concerns about the legislation, which is on the books in 20 other states. Others wondered if 17-year-olds are mature enough to vote, she said.
The law only applies to general elections with primaries. Seventeen-year-olds will not be able to vote in local elections, such as school or village board races. Lawmakers may try to change that down the road, Sente said.
Link urged the students who were on hand for the bill signing to take advantage of the new law and vote in March.
"It's an awesome responsibility we're putting on (their) shoulders today," he said.
Neli Farahmandpour, 17, of Long Grove, was among the Stevenson High students who helped push the legislation through. She said she can't wait to vote in March.
"Now it's up to us," Farahmandpour said.