Should 16-Year-Olds Vote in Massachusetts Municipal Elections?
To my knowledge, there has been no clamor among 16-year-olds to participate in Massachusetts municipal elections. I have not heard of rallies or marches involving the sweet 16 set in which participants have demanded the right to vote.
One might think that if 16-year-olds were eager to trek to the ballot box to vote in local elections, there would be at least one public high school in Massachusetts where some act of civil disobedience, perhaps a walkout during the school day, had occurred.
Yet, the Boston City Council has joined municipal governments in a handful of other Massachusetts communities in seeking permission from the state to lower the minimum voting age to allow 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections.
Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, Ashfield, Concord, Lowell, Northampton, Shelburne, Wendall, and now Boston are seeking legislative approval through the "home rule petition" process to lower the voting age to 16.
Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia, a co-sponsor of the Boston initiative, argues, "We have a lot of young people who are working – oftentimes two jobs – just to help support their families, paying taxes and on the front lines protesting and trying to find ways to have their voices heard. And every day we make decisions on their behalf."
Mejia hopes to organize other Massachusetts communities to support lowering the voting age for municipal elections. There are two bills pending on Beacon Hill to allow local communities to bypass the legislative process in lowering their voting age.
I asked members of the New Bedford City Council their thoughts on lowering the voting age for municipal elections. Here are some of the responses I received.
Council President Ian Abreu said "absolutely not."
"Sixteen and 17-year-olds are not in a place in their lives where they are qualified to make voting decisions which may have a real and lasting effect on everyone's lives," he said.
At-Large Councilor Linda Morad said she'd be willing to listen to the voters, but on the surface, she's against the idea.
"I'd want to know how my constituents would want me to vote. My personal opinion is that I would not support that home rule petition," she said.
Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira called it "an interesting question."
"Without doing any research into the matter or reading how the system would work, I think that is a good idea and that it is definitely worth exploring," he said.
Pereira wondered if lowering the age would make 16-and-17-year-olds "more interested in voting in the future."
At-Large Councilor Naomi Carney said was concerned about how informed voters that young would be.
"I'm not sure that most 16 and 17-year-olds pay much attention to elections," she said. "Let's keep kids doing youth things for as long as we can."
Ward 5's Scott Lima says, "Until I consider the issue in depth, I'd prefer to keep the minimum voting age at 18."
Ward 2's Maria Giesta told me, "At this time, I'm OK with 18, but I'd like to know more about Boston's home rule petition."
At-Large Councilor Brian Gomes was adamant in his opposition.
"Absolutely not," he said. "Eighteen years old is labeled as the start of your adult years, voting comes with that – just like at 21, you can have a cocktail."
Would you support lowering the voting age for participating in municipal elections to 16 years old?