COLUMBUS, OHIO — It doesn’t happen very often: You’re in the middle of protesting, and then, suddenly, you learn that you’ve won.
But it happened on Friday afternoon, outside of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office. There, about 50 teenagers gathered to protest Husted’s abrupt and unexpected decision last week to bar 17-year-olds from voting in the state’s presidential primary on March 15. Until that decision, the state allowed 17-year-olds who turn 18 by Election Day to participate in the primary. Twenty other states and the District of Columbia allow the same.
It just so happened, however, that as the teenagers held up signs reading things like “Let us vote” and chanted things like “Our voices matter,” a judge granted their request. According to the Associated Press, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye issued an emergency order blocking Husted’s attempt to stop 17-year-olds from casting presidential primary ballots.
“We did it!” protest organizer Meredith Whitaker, 17, shouted into a megaphone. “We’re showing the government that they might not care about us, but we care about them.”
The issue of Ohio 17-year-olds voting gained national attention this week, after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filed a lawsuit protesting Husted’s decision. Filed along with six 17-year-old voters, Sanders’ lawsuit called Husted’s sudden decision an “unconstitutional attempt to block young voters from casting ballots.”
“It is an outrage that the secretary of state in Ohio is going out of his way to keep young people — significantly African-American young people, Latino young people — from participating,” Sanders said in a statement. Sanders’ lawsuit, however, was not the one considered by Judge Frye on Friday. That lawsuit was filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network, and Columbus attorney Rachel Bloomekatz.
I’ve been excited to exercise my right to vote, and I felt betrayed that they suddenly wouldn’t allow us.
At the protest, it was clear why Sanders might be interested in 17-year-olds — the vast majority of teens there told ThinkProgress they would vote for him if given the chance. Sanders paraphernalia was everywhere: On shirts, on signs, on one of the teen’s electric motorbikes.
“I think he’s the only one addressing income inequality head-on,” said Simeon Atha, 17. Next to Atha, 15-year-old Sean Blakesley agreed. “He’s the dude,” Blakesley said.
Lexa Funderburg, a 17-year-old who will be 18 before the general election and registered to vote this past summer, also said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. But Sanders’ involvement in the voting controversy wasn’t the sole reason she came to the protest, she said.
“I’ve been excited to exercise my right to vote, and I felt betrayed that they suddenly wouldn’t allow us,” she said. “This decision discourages young people from actively participating in government, and there is no government without participation.”
But Sanders supporters did not make up the entirety of Friday’s crowd. Alongside the Sanders army, two young interns for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump held up signs opposing Husted’s decision.
“It just made us so mad, especially because [Husted] is a Republican,” said Lully Dunning, 17. “It makes us feel like the party doesn’t support us.”
Dunning traveled to Columbus from Dayton, Ohio — over 100 miles away — to attend the protest with fellow Trump intern Andrew Bruns, 16. Both were unabashedly enthusiastic about the prospect of a Trump presidency.
It makes us feel like the [Republican] party doesn’t support us.
“He’s smart, he’s brutally honest, he’s not a politician,” Bruns said. “He’s never once said a racist thing.”
Bruns and Dunning said they get a lot of grief from their high school peers for supporting Trump. Most of them, they said, are Bernie Sanders supporters. Bruns also has to deal with the fact that his other boss supports another candidate — Bruns said he is also an intern for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Still, Bruns and Dunning said there was one thing they agree with Bernie Sanders on — 17-year-olds should get to vote in Ohio’s presidential primary if they’ll be 18 by the time of the general election.
“I agree with him on absolutely nothing,” Dunning said, “but I agree with him on this.”