Boylan/Lawson bill to allow 17-year-olds
to vote in primaries enacted


STATE HOUSE – Some 17-year-olds will be eligible to vote in primary elections after a bill sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Boylan and Sen. Valarie Lawson has been enacted. The law (2023-S 0035A, 2023-H 5055A) permits someone to vote in a primary election as long as they are registered to vote and will be 18 by the time of the general election.

“Many young people in our communities are engaged and paying attention,” said Representative Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), who sponsored the bill in the House. “If they’ll be voting in the general election, they should have a say in who appears on the ballot. Participation among our youngest voters has historically been low, and this bill could help encourage them to get engaged and stay engaged in our democracy.”

According to Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore, the law will impact roughly 1,200 people each year. Around the country, 19 other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws, including Maine, Vermont and Connecticut.

The legislation was first introduced in Rhode Island by Sen. Valarie Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Secretary of State Amore, then serving in the House of Representatives. Both were teachers who spent a lot of time with young people.

“When we give young people more opportunities to engage directly in the electoral process, we set them up for a lifetime of civic engagement,” said Secretary of State Amore. “I appreciate the advocacy of my former colleagues in the General Assembly on this bill, which I was proud to sponsor when I was in the House of Representatives, and I look forward to more young Rhode Islanders participating in our elections.”

“Teaching high school civics for years in East Providence, I got to know so many smart, engaged young people,” said Senator Lawson. “We know that once someone votes once, they’re likely to keep participating in our democracy every election. This law will motivate young individuals to exercise their right to vote, which is something we should all encourage.”