By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Legislation that would open primary elections to 17-year-olds in Illinois is on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it earlier this week.
The teens will be able to vote in spring primaries if they will turn 18 by the general election in November. Nineteen other states have enacted similar laws.
The Senate voted 43-9 Wednesday to send House Bill 226 to the governor. The House approved the proposal in April by a 95-22 vote.
Adams County Clerk Georgia Volm said she believes the move could help increase turnout in primaries in some local races, since students will likely be familiar with some of the local issues, such as in their school districst.
Volm said it also might convince younger voters to maintain their voter registration in Adams County when they go to college.
"In the state of Illinois, they have the right to use their voter registration at their home or the school they're going to," she said. "Maybe that will generate enough interest where now they are going to be able to vote locally at the age of 17 and get them involved in it a little sooner before they take off for college."
The Chicago Tribune reported that sponsoring Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, suggested many first-time voters are "well informed of what's going on" but because of their birthdates may not get a say which candidates come out of the primary.
"I think they should have the opportunity to vote for the people that will represent them in the general election," Link told the Tribune. "I think this is a positive step forward to getting more voter participation."
Volm said county clerks will have to wait to receive guidance from the Illinois State Board of Elections on how the law will be rolled out. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1971, lowered the age for federal elections to 18.
"Will we have to create separate ballots for them for what they can vote on and what they can't vote on, or are they going to be allowed to vote on everything?" she said. "We're going to have some major discussions amongst the State Board of Elections, the county clerks as well, and probably with several attorneys about what we will be responsible for."