On the question of whether to support an amendment to the state constitution to allow some 17-year-old residents to vote in state primaries, the critical question is this: Will it encourage more young Vermonters to vote or not?
The intent of the amendment is to get Vermont’s youth more involved in voting at a slightly earlier age — perhaps when some are in their senior year in high school. The amendment specifically allows for 17-year-old Vermont residents, who will turn 18 before the general election, to vote in the primary.
It would seem simple enough, but town clerks and election officials, no doubt, will find a few inconveniences along the way. The downside, in a word, is change. Town clerks feel they are pressured enough without adding more to their plate, and in many cases that is true. But is this straw that breaks the camel’s back? Really?
We don’t think so, and if the amendment reaches out to younger Vermonters and exposes them to voting while still in high school, then terrific. The biggest drawback to the amendment is that it is likely to have almost no effect. Our fear is that the window is so small (the number of teens who will be 17 at the time of the August primary and turn 18 by that first week of November is relatively small). Then add the percentage of students that age who vote, and the number is insignificant.
The question, then, is whether the amendment is worth the effort? On that point, it’s impossible to know. If just 20 more 18-year-olds show up to vote in the general election, is that worth the change? If those 20, convert a few of their friends to vote the following year or two, and 40 people now are hooked on voting, is it worth it? If those friends tell two other friends each and they vote, it’s now up to 120 new voters — and that’s of a scale suitable for Addison County. Multiply it across the state, and it could actually be a measure of some importance.
But even if voting doesn’t go viral among these younger voters, what harm have we done in trying to lure them, early on, in the voting process? And at what potential good?
The likelihood of the good outweighing the harm is certain; and for that very reason, we’d encourage Addison County readers to vote Yes on the proposed amendment.
Angelo S. Lynn