Editor’s note: Peter Flynn, 17, a senior at Middletown High School in Middletown, CT, ran into a bureaucratic buzzsaw when he went to cast his first-ever vote on Tuesday. Here’s his story, plus an encouraging post script:
I cast my first vote on Tuesday and I was pretty excited about doing it. I have been following the campaigns of the Presidential candidates very closely. I’ve watched debates and group-chatted with my closest friends about the issues and the views of all of the candidates.
But actually casting my vote turned out to be quite a challenge.
I left Middletown High School as soon as classes finished for the day and drove straight to my precinct at Keigwin Middle School. I didn’t know what to expect. When I got there at 2:15, there was no line. I gave the poll workers my address and showed them my ID, but they couldn’t find my name on the registry. The volunteer turned the page, and my name was listed on a separate page. She called another volunteer over and he said “You are on the no vote list because you are 17.”
I knew that was a mistake. My mother and her colleagues at Common Cause had a hand in the passage of a state law that allows 17-year-olds to vote if they’ll turn 18 before Election Day.
“I thought you could vote in Connecticut if you turn 18 by the time of the November election,” I told the volunteer. “When I registered five days ago, they told me I could vote.” The volunteer said, “It’s not his fault, someone in Town Hall confused him.” I told them that I had several friends who are 17 who had already voted. “Look, you can’t vote, but I will double-check just to make you feel better,” the volunteer said. He called someone and argued with them for awhile, then hung up and told me again, “you are on the no vote list and you can’t vote.”
My Dad is a lawyer, so I went outside and called him for help. He phoned the registrar, who confirmed that I could vote and promised to call the precinct and straighten things out. I walked back inside and found the volunteer was arguing with the registrar on the phone. He hung up. He said that the registrar agreed with him that I can’t vote.
Frustrated, I began to search on my cell phone for a copy of the law in Connecticut to show him; it was really hard to figure out how to find it. I reminded him and the other volunteers that several of my 17-year-old friends had voted. “Who are these kids?” he asked. “Where did they vote? What were their names?” That started to make me nervous. I thought to myself, I am not giving them any names.
Finally, they told me to go to Town Hall and try to get my name off the no vote list. I could tell that they didn’t think I would bother. They even told me that they appreciated that I tried to vote, and don’t’ forget to vote in November.
By now, I was furious. I called my father to let him know that I was on my way to the registrar’s office. The woman I met there was expecting me. My guess is that the volunteers at my voting place called her. She said that I have a right to vote and that the volunteers were wrong. I asked her to call the volunteers to tell them to take me off the so-called “No vote” list. She did that and I went back to Keigwin.
When I walked back in, the two woman at the check-in table were smiling. “It is so nice to see a young person go to such lengths to vote,” one said. I could not contain my smile when they handed me my ballot.
I saw the volunteer who had argued with me at the back of the room with a woman who held a white binder. They seemed to be arguing. My bet is that she was coaching him on the law allowing 17-year-olds to vote.
I don’t hold a grudge against those volunteers but I was upset to learn today that one of my friends was turned away for the same reason I was and that he just gave up. One of my neighbors went to vote at Keigwin several hours after I did and had no problems. That made me feel better. I really hope that my struggle to vote helped prevent other students from being turned away.
PS: I thought I would add a quick update that came from my state Representative Matt Lesser. After this piece appeared on Thursday, he let me know that he has been in touch with the Secretary of State’s office and that he and the staff at the Secretary’s office were upset to learn about what happened to me. Rep. Lesser said that the Registrar in Middletown will be putting in place some new procedures and training to make sure this doesn’t happen to any 17-year- olds for the August primary.
Issues: Voting and Elections