PA Democrats Organizes Voter Registration

(L to R) Jake Jordan ’20 and Natalie Ahn ’20 register to vote at the PA

In Massachusetts, 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election are not allowed to vote in party primaries. This is not the case, however, in 27 other states and Washington D.C. PA Democrats (PADems) is advocating for the passage of a bill to allow Massachusetts residents 17 years old and above to vote in the primary. In the past two weeks, Andover students have signed almost 150 letters of support.

Junah Jang ’20, President of PADems, said, “If this bill passes, and we really hope that it will, then 17-year-olds who are going to be 18 by the general election will be able to help choose the candidates that they’ll ultimately be eligible to vote for, which means bigger participation from a younger demographic earlier on in the presidential election process.”

On Tuesday, Michael Barker, the Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, and Jang hosted voter registration at Senior Tea. Barker and Jang offered eligible 17-year-olds the opportunity to register to vote with the hopes that the bill will pass in time for their vote to count.

Barker said before the event, “Students will come to Senior Tea as they usually do, and if they’d like to register to vote and they’re of age to do so, [Jang] and some volunteers will help them do that. We’re about to head into an important election year. I certainly like to support any kind of engagement on the student’s part as it relates to elections.”

Uanne Chang ’20 registered to vote at the event.

“[It’s] something that I knew I wanted to participate in, and therefore I registered to vote…If you’re going to end up voting in a main election anyways, we should at least be able to decide who you’re going to vote for, and the fact that 17-year-olds who aren’t going to turn 18 in time for the earlier [primaries]…doesn’t quite make sense,” said Chang.

While PADems normally holds a voting drive for Seniors and eligible voters at Andover, Jang explained that the logistics of voter registration become more challenging with the restriction of 17-year-olds. Jang believes that restricting 17-year-olds from voting in the primary can also limit expression in politically homogeneous places.

“I think that if you’re going to ultimately be eligible to vote for somebody in the presidential election, you should have a say in who that candidate is going to be. I also think that in places especially like Massachusetts, we have less power in the ultimate general election where it’s a pretty blue state, so you’re sort of drowned out by a lot of other voters, versus in the primary you have more of a say on how progressive you want your candidate to be,” said Jang.

PADems has been working with Samantha Bevins, an 11th grader at Milton Academy, who is spearheading a movement across Massachusetts high schools for the passage of the bill.

According to Bevins, the passing of this bill would increase potential voters drastically. Bevins noted the effects of the bill in Illinois as an example of how young voter participation greatly increased when 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the primary. Bevins also cited a study[a] from two Columbia professors, published in the American Journal of Political Science, which suggested that voting for younger people would “habituate” them into the process of voting, and will increase the chance that they vote in the future.

“After Illinois passed similar legislation in 2014, in Chicago’s 2014 primaries, 17-year-old women turned out at a rate of 18.5 percent and 17-year-old males turned out at a rate of 14.9 percent which was higher than the rate of 20s, 30s, and 40 year olds,” wrote Bevins in an email to The Phillipian.

Evelyn Darling ’23 believes that restricting 17-year-olds from voting would be detrimental to the integrity of the voting process and limit the amount of voices participating at a civic level.

“The general election is still going to be only decided by legal adults. There is no massive difference between a 17-year-old who’s two months away from being 18 and an 18-year-old. It’s not like having a 12-year-old versus an 18-year-old. By having people allowed to vote in the primaries at the age of 17, and having them be 18 by the general election, you’re not going to be messing up the results, but you are going to be able to get more people’s ideas and opinions into the election,” said Darling.

Editor’s Note: Junah Jang ’20 is a Managing Editor for The Phillipian.