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17 years old and voting

Some can cast ballots in this year’s primaries

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Helen Pate, 17, of Dixon registers to vote Wednesday morning at the Lee County clerk's office. Under a new provision of state law, Pate is allowed to vote in the March 18 primary, because she will be 18 in time for the general election on Nov. 4.

DIXON – Helen Pate of Dixon, who plans to vote in the March 18 primary election, will be among a new group of voters – 17-year-olds.

Under a new state law, Illinois 17-year-olds can vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries in March, as long as they will be 18 by the time of the Nov. 4 general election.

Sharon U. Thompson, Pate’s grandmother, recently read in the newspaper about the new law and realized her granddaughter fell into the group of new voters.

“I knew she was qualified,” said Thompson, a former Lee County treasurer and County Board member.

On Wednesday, Thompson went with Pate to the county clerk’s office, where Pate registered to vote.

“I’ve never missed an election,” Thompson said. “Voting’s very important to me. “[The younger generation] needs to be made aware of how important it is. It’s a great freedom we have here in the United States.”

Pate said her grandmother is big into politics.

“I hang out at her house,” the Dixon High School senior said. “We always talk about it.”

Pate said she hadn’t thought much about the coming primaries, because she is focused on school.

After graduation, she plans to go to Sauk Valley Community College for 2 years, then transfer to Northern Illinois University or some other school. She hopes to become a history teacher.

According to the Lee County clerk’s office, a few 17-year-olds have registered to vote so far. In Whiteside County, none had come to the counter to register as of earlier this week, County Clerk Dana Nelson said.

Registering to vote

The deadline to register to vote in the March 18 Democratic and Republican primaries is Feb. 18. People can register after that until March 15, but they must vote at the same time at the county clerk's office. 

Call the Whiteside County clerk's office at 815-772-5189 and the Lee County clerk's office at 815-288-3309 for more information.

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