More political rights for teens? Plan moves forward in General Assembly

  • Terry Link

    Terry Link

Updated 5/31/2016 8:49 PM

Legislation that could expand the ability of Illinois teenagers to participate in the political process has cleared the state Senate.

The bill, which has strong Lake County ties, aims to 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.


It also would allow qualified 17-year-olds to vote in consolidated primary elections, such as city council races.

"Restricting a 17-year-old from having a say in who represents them at the local level is unfair and undemocratic," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat who was the measure's chief sponsor in the Senate. "We should be opening the doors to them, not shutting them out."

The legislation would amend the "Suffrage at 17" law that was enacted in 2013 and gave such 17-year-olds the right to vote in primary elections.

Both proposals originated with the student Political Action Club at Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School and have received bipartisan support from Lake County's delegation to the General Assembly.

The amendment was prompted by a Stevenson senior who discovered she couldn't legally collect signatures for a congressional candidate ahead of the recent primary election or register potential voters because she was too young -- even though she was old enough to vote in the election.

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Democratic state Rep. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills proposed the bill in the House, and it passed overwhelmingly in April.

On Friday, the Senate approved the legislation 54-0.

The legislation now goes back to the House for a second vote because of changes made in the Senate. If the House approves the changes, it'll move to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk for his signature.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn came to Stevenson High to sign the original Suffrage at 17 law in 2013. School spokesman Jim Conrey said he hopes Rauner will make a similar trip for the new legislation.

"It would only be fitting for him to do that here," Conrey said.

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