Bernie Sanders' campaign has filed a lawsuit in an effort to allow 17-year-olds to vote in Ohio.
"I want to do everything that I can to encourage people to participate," Sanders told reporters on Tuesday afternoon before leaving Michigan for a rally in Miami, Florida. "Unfortunately, in the state of Ohio there is an effort by the secretary of state to do exactly the opposite."
The lawsuit was filed against Jon Husted, Ohio's Republican secretary of state. In December of 2015, he issued a revised 2015 election manual, including a new interpretation of the voter law which would prohibit 17-year-olds from voting in the primary even if they will be 18 by the time of election day in November. Before this happened, Ohio was one of 20 states where 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the general election in November were allowed to vote in primaries.
According to the campaign, there are 6 other 17-year-olds who, with a parent, are also suing the secretary of state. The Sanders campaign's argument is that Husted's actions violate the Due Process and Equal Protection provisions of the 14th Amendment because he "arbitrarily changed" the law without voters' approval.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manger, said that the lawsuit is not about winning Ohio and is instead an effort to protect voting rights. The campaign said they learned the change it from their field staff on the ground in Ohio. The Vermont senator typically polls very well with younger voters.
Weaver also called it a "backhanded way" of suppressing minority voters in Ohio. He argued that the change affects minorities more than other groups because the younger voter pool in Ohio has a high proportion of Latino and African Americans.
"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. He committed to doing "everything I can" to increase voter turnout and get young people involve in the political process.
Sanders did not mention the lawsuit on stage in Miami but he did press the larger idea that Republicans are trying to suppress voter turnout.
"Cowardly Republican Governors are working overtime trying to make it harder for people to participate in the political process," Sanders said to boos from the crowd of 3,800. "Our job is to make it easier, not harder, to increase the voter turnout."
The Sanders campaign did not ask the Clinton campaign to join them in the lawsuit but said they would welcome them if they wanted to do so. They hope that the lawsuit will be resolved by March 15th, the day of the Ohio primary, so that young voters can get out to the polls.