Bernie Sanders Polls: What Does It Mean For Sanders’ 2016 Campaign If Some 17 Year Olds Can Legally Vote?

Bernie Sanders has spent a great deal of his campaign targeting college kids as his primary market, and it’s no great surprise why. Along with the fact that the younger demographic tends to lean left politically, Sanders is also promising students who are usually swarming in debt that he’ll introduce free college tuition if elected.

If young college kids and those in high school are his target demographic, Sanders may have a slight leg up on the competition this election year. According to FairVote.org, 17-year-olds in Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, and Washington are legally allowed to vote. The site also mentions that any state can ask for the right for its 17-year-old population to vote thanks to the First Amendment’s Right of Association.

Perhaps even stranger, though, is that voters in the above states can only vote in the Democratic caucuses, not in the Republican ones (sorry, 17-year-old conservatives). That would leave young Democrats in those states with only two real options: Senator Sanders or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, depending on who gets the nomination. A write-in ballot is also possible, though presumably it would still have to be for a Democrat candidate.

So far, Bernie’s campaign hasn’t focused on this possible loophole, as he is currently fighting backlash from Trump and Trump’s supporters over an incident in Chicago, where Sanders supporters were accused of trying to shut down a Donald Trump rally. According to the Inquisitr,Sanders and his aides personally denied his claims, and blamed Trump’s divisive speeches for the resulting violence.

Sanders at a campaign event in Manchester, NH, Oct. 30, 2015. [Image Via Michael Vadon, Wikipedia.org, CC-BY SA 2.0]

At the moment, Sanders is behind Secretary of State Clinton in the polls, with Sanders having about 576 delegates pledged to him versus Clinton’s 1,231. However, the results of these polls aren’t final until the Democratic National Convention in July, so anything can happen between now and then. States that have proven fertile ground for Sanders supporters in 2016 include Colorado (where 38 delegates felt the Bern), and Georgia (where Sanders nabbed 28 new supporters).

When the campaigning process finally comes to an end, likely during or before November of this year, either Sanders or Clinton will secure the nomination based who has the greatest number of delegates representing them. Even though voters do not directly determine which candidate gets nominated or even which is elected, their votes can have an impact, so their support is meaningful and necessary for all candidates involved.

A map showing the total number of delegates available for Democratic Party candidates this year. Some states have already pledged their delegates, with Hillary Clinton taking a huge lead over Bernie in most states that already reported. [Image Via Ali Zifan, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY SA 4.0]

As the Hill discovered, Ohio recently passed a court ruling that allows 17-year-olds who will reach 18 before Election Day to vote in the primary elections. Speculation has been that this could help Bernie, whose support typically comes from the younger demographic. However, Ohio also tends to lean right, so there’s no telling what could happen in this very valuable state. Ohio currently has 143 delegates, none of which are pledged yet. We will know the results of the Ohio delegates’ decisions this coming Tuesday, March 15.

Additionally, the highly-prized state of California does not need to commit its nearly 600 delegates until June, which could also tilt the odds in favor of a certain candidate. At the moment, young voters in that state must be at least age 18 at the time of the election to legally vote, but can “preregister” as young as 16. Preregistration lets 16-year-old voters automatically cast their ballot once they turn 18, but not before then. It’s unclear how this would either work for or against any of the candidates campaigning in that state, but Sanders may want to woo younger voters in California now if he fails in 2016 and wants to try again in 2020.