On a party-line vote, a House committee has voted to let Iowans who would reach the age of 18 by Election Day in November to vote in the Primary Election in June. That means Iowans who are just over 17 and a half years old could vote in party primaries in June.
Representative Charles Isenhart, a Democrat from Dubuque, says it’s another way to get young people interested in politics. "Every other year we will have a generation of high school seniors who will actually still be in school at the time they are entering into an election season, an election that they’ll be able to vote at," Isenhart says. "I think it will be a tremendous opportunity for the civics teachers in some of our high schools to start educating our young people on benefits of voting and how to get involved in an election that’s impending."
All 12 Democrats on the House State Government Committee voted for the bill, but all nine Republicans voted against it. "There are certain things you can do when you’re 18. There are certain things you can do when you’re 21," Representative Doug Struyk, a Republican from Council Bluffs, said. "We don’t say, ‘Hey…I’m 20-and-a-half, can I go buy a case of beer and not drink it ’til I’m 21?’"
Struyk and other Republicans argued that in some districts which lean heavily in favor of one party, the June Primary decides who will represent the district, as a candidate from the opposing party often doesn’t even step forward to challenge the primary winner in the general election. "We’re now giving a child, (an) un-emancipated minor, the ability to decide and cast a deciding vote in that election," Struyk says. "That is a serious, serious step."
Isenhart, the Democrat who was the bill’s chief backer in committee countered, saying that makes it even more important that those 17-and-a-half year olds get to vote in the primary. "Many of the elections we run in, the primary election is the general election for all intents and purposes, and the person elected at the next general election will be the representative of those people who will turn 18…and this will give those folks an opportunity to elect or vote on the person who will represent them as adults," Isenhart says.
The bill must next clear the full, 100-member House, then win approval in the senate before it heads to the governor for his approval.
"As Secretary of State and now Governor, Chet Culver has been a tireless advocate for increasing youth participation in voting. As a result, the Governor will consider every piece of legislation that helps to achieve this goal," Troy Price, a spokesman for Culver, said in a prepared statement. "This (bill) is still under review by the Governor and his staff, and he will make a decision in a timely manner."