Some Cities Push for Lower Voting Age
By Mary Markos
SOMERVILLE -- Somerville teens could cast their ballot the same year they apply for their driver’s license, under a measure lowering the voting age to 16 that passed by the Somerville City Council Thursday.
“Young people are hungry and more than capable to participate in the democratic process,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone told the Herald, “to bring about positive social change in their communities, in the commonwealth, in the country and in the world.”
The measure to lower the voting age for municipal elections passed unanimously Thursday, but it needs the approval of the state Legislature.
Lowell’s City Council previously approved a similar measure, voting unanimously to send lawmakers a home-rule petition that would have enabled Lowell to put a question on city ballots asking voters if they wanted to let 17-year-olds vote.
Those efforts, led in Lowell by UTEC, ultimately went nowhere as the Legislature never passed the required home-rule petition.
The Lowell-based advocacy agency didn’t give up, though. They remain one of the major advocates for new bill pending on Beacon Hill that would enable communities to make such a change without getting a home-rule petition through the Legislature.
An Act Insuring Municipal Participation of the Widest Eligible Range, or the EMPOWER Act, remains pending on Beacon Hill.
Lowering the voting age was one of 16 recommendations made by the Somerville’s Clean and Open Elections Task Force in October, which was charged with inspiring greater voter participation.
Curtatone said that the goal is to “build lifelong habits of local engagement and voter participation in our young leaders.”
Anthony Amore, speaking for the Massachusetts Republican Party, raised concerns about giving the right to vote to people who “can’t see an ‘R’ rated movie” or “drive a car” without an adult in the passenger seat.
“I think that the push for 16-year-old voting is a naked attempt to try to get more left-leaning voters registered,” Amore said. “I don’t think there’s any other rationale for it beyond that.”
Amore cited a similar proposal from U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley in March to lower the federal election voting age to 16. Pressley’s office did not return requests for comment yesterday.
“When it was introduced in Congress by Representative Pressley, she had said these are the people that will be inheriting the country,” Amore said. “That’s true of infants and toddlers as well, but that’s not a reason to extend it.”
When asked about Pressley’s proposal in March, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “I did raise three teenagers, and based on that I’d be pretty dubious about lowering it to 16.”
Amore echoed Baker’s sentiment, saying that 16- and 17-year-olds are “not mature enough” and lack life experience on which to base decisions in the voting booth.
Curtatone countered that the teenagers are “fully capable,” of handling the civic responsibility, pointing to their involvement in issues including gun violence and climate change.
“We’ve seen it over and over again,” Curtatone said. “Young people are showing many people in political office what leadership really looks like. They are leading the charge of the important issues of our time.”