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Story highlights

Bernie Sanders' campaign on Tuesday sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, accusing the Republican of quietly changing a law in an effort to block 17-year-olds from voting in the state's presidential primary next week

Husted, however, insisted that there had been no change in the law

Washington CNN —  

Bernie Sanders’ campaign on Tuesday sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, accusing the Republican of quietly changing a law in an effort to block 17-year-olds from voting in the state’s presidential primary next week.

Husted, however, insisted that there had been no change in the law.

“The secretary of state has decided to disenfranchise people who are 17 but will be 18 by the day of the general election,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told reporters in Detroit Tuesday afternoon. “Those people have been allowed to vote under the law of Ohio, but the secretary of state of the state of Ohio has decided to disenfranchise those people to forbid them from voting in the primary that is coming up on March 15.”

In a statement, Sanders said minorities would be most affected by what he said was Husted’s “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.

The lawsuit claims Husted changed the rules in an election manual published in December and says the Sanders campaign is seeking an injunction that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots next week. The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday that a state Democratic lawmaker raised the issue last week.

The suit cites a 2009 pamphlet that the Sanders campaign says was put out by then-Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat. The pamphlet says 17-year-olds were barred from voting on referendums and elections of state party members but makes no mention of them being barred from voting in the presidential primaries.

Weaver told reporters that the campaign expects the matter to be resolved before Ohio holds its primary next Tuesday.

But Husted said Tuesday that there has been no change – 17-year-olds who turn 18 by Election Day in November have always been allowed to vote in direct nominations (such as Ohio’s Senate primary) but barred from voting for delegates in the presidential primary.

“I welcome this lawsuit and I am very happy to be sued on this issue because the law is crystal clear,” Husted said in a statement. “We are following the same rules Ohio has operated under in past primaries, under both Democrat and Republican administrations. There is nothing new here. If you are going to be 18 by the November election, you can vote, just not on every issue.”

“That means 17-year-olds can vote in the primary, but only on the nomination of candidates to the general election ballot,” Husted added. “They are not permitted to elect candidates, which is what voters are doing in a primary when they elect delegates to represent them at their political party’s national convention, or vote on issues like school, police and fire levies.”

However, the Sanders lawsuit contests that interpretation of the primary process, stating that votes are cast directly for presidential candidates and not the delegates – meaning 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote under the law.

A follow up message left with Husted’s office about the 2009 pamphlet was not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Ohio’s primary next week is considered to be one of the most crucial contests for both the Democratic and Republican candidates. And young voters have been a critical voting bloc for Sanders throughout the Democratic contest. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found Hillary Clinton besting Sanders among those aged 50 and older, 65% to 32%, while Sanders leads 60% to 38% among those younger than 50.