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Jim Hawkins: Congratulations...It’s time to register

Jim Hawkins • Updated May 22, 2017 at 4:00 PM

 “American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age.” 

– Marshall McLuhan, communications theory philosopher (1911-80)

In Tennessee, the month of May is the time to congratulate high school graduates and their families – and especially their K-12 teachers!

Many high school graduates have reached, or will soon reach, the age of 18, which is legally called “the age of majority.” 

Q. Where does the term “age of majority” come from?

Many English words trace their origins to the Latin language. In Latin, the word “maior,” also spelled “major,” means “greater.”

The “age of majority” is the age at which a person previously known as a “minor” is now recognized by law to have the greater legal rights of an adult.

When a 17-year-old turns 18 years old, she or he is now deemed to be responsible for managing her or his own legal relationships. This means, for example, that a person turning 18 years old may now sign contracts, purchase and own or sell land and enter into marriage without the legal consent of parents.

Turning 18 also brings certain civic obligations and privileges – like voting.

Q. Does a person have to be 18 years old to register to vote?

No. By Tennessee law, a citizen who is 17 years old, and who will turn 18 on or before an upcoming election, may go ahead and register to vote. 

Tennessee law allows citizens to register to vote up to 30 days before an election. The deadline to register for the Aug. 4, 2016 state primary and county elections is Tuesday, July 5, 2016. The deadline to register for the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential, state and local elections is Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.

NOTE: Male citizens and undocumented male immigrants age 18 to 25 are still required to register for the Selective Service System at sss.gov, “to furnish manpower to the Defense Department during a national emergency.”

James B. “Jim” Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call 615-452-9200. 


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