In the summer of 2016, Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis and Philomath) led the inaugural class of the Willamette Valley Legislative Fellowship program for 10 local college and high school students. The program aimed to provide students with a comprehensive introduction to policy development and state politics.
“Giving back to the community through the fellowship was a rewarding experience,” Rayfield said. “I enjoyed providing the fellows with access and opportunity to be take part in the political process.”
When the Fellowship concluded, three groups presented potential policy ideas at the Capitol in a mock committee hearing. The winning policy was created by Lauren Arthenayake (Corvallis High School), Clark Shimeall (Corvallis High School) and Jack Harper (Willamette University). Their idea came from the office’s interest in election reform and allows voters who are 17 years old at the time of the primary, but will be 18 by the general election, to vote in the primary. This policy idea eventually turned into HB 2928.
"Young voters are disenfranchised,” Rayfield said. “They are capable, engaged and should be encouraged to take part in the entire electoral process, not just vote for a candidate they played no role in selecting. This bill would allow 17-year-olds to make an informed decision on the candidate of their choice and encourage them to take part in our democracy.”
A public hearing for the bill took place on March 16, during which Rayfield’s interns, Anne Broussard (Western Oregon University), Sierra Alvernaz (Oregon State University) and Clark Shimeall (Corvallis High School), testified on behalf of the bill.
“Becoming involved in politics at a young age is incredibly important,” Broussard said. “Seventeen year-olds shouldn’t be excluded from having their voices heard simply because of their age.”
“Voting is a vital part of teaching young people about politics,” Alvernaz said. “When young people become invested in politics, they are more likely to stay involved in the political process throughout their lives.”
Oregon would not be the first state to allow this exception. Currently, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation granting 17-year-olds the right to participate in primary elections. HB 2928 is currently in the House Rules Committee awaiting a work session.