Stevenson High students pushing for more political rights
Three years after Stevenson High School students successfully championed state legislation expanding voting rights for teenagers, the Lincolnshire school's Political Action Club is pushing a proposal that would let young people get involved in the political process in different ways.
The bill would allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next general election to serve as voter registrars, sign candidates' nominating petitions and circulate those petitions as campaign staffers or volunteers.
Until the Stevenson-created "Suffrage at 17" law was enacted in 2013, Illinois voters had to be 18 to cast ballots in primary or general elections. The law allows people who are 17 at the time of a primary, but will turn 18 by the next general election, to vote in the primary.
It doesn't apply to springtime local elections.
The new proposal was prompted by 17-year-old Stevenson High senior Megan Rivkin, who was frustrated when she learned she couldn't collect signatures for Democratic congressional candidate Brad Schneider ahead of last month's primary election or register potential voters because she was too young.
"This seemed counterintuitive to me," said Rivkin, a Lincolnshire resident who turns 18 in May. "If I am deemed old enough to vote, I don't see why I shouldn't have all voter participation rights."
Rivkin and her peers sought assistance from state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat who pushed the 2013 voting law through the General Assembly. Sente was the chief sponsor for the new legislation, too.
The state House passed the proposal 98-8 last week. It awaits consideration in the Senate, where Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, is the package's chief sponsor.
"They (Stevenson students) realize the importance of voting and they want to be part of it," Link said.
The Senate isn't in session now but returns to work Monday. Link expects a committee will debate the proposal next week and he doesn't anticipate much opposition.
That's good news for Rivkin and other 17-year-olds who would be eligible for these political activities for the first time.
"I think it's key to our political system that young people are engaged, and collecting petitions and registering voters are huge parts of the political process," Rivkin said.
The legislation also addresses a voting-related oversight in the 2013 law, said Stevenson government teacher and political club sponsor Andrew Conneen.
That law enables eligible 17-year-olds to vote in primaries during general-election years -- but not township primaries. Those are relatively rare in the Chicago area "but they sometimes do happen," Conneen said. The new legislation would expand 17-year-olds' voting rights to include township primaries.
Stevenson High spokesman Jim Conrey said it's encouraging to see students get so involved with the democratic process.
"This is a perfect example of civics education in action, moving beyond the classroom and stepping into the arena in the service of others," Conrey said.