Somerville, MA– The City Council in Somerville voted unanimously last week to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. (The voting age for state or federal elections would remain 18.) Before the new rule is official, the city has requested approval from the State House via a Home Rule Petition, which requests exemption from the state's minimum voting age of 18.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone tweeted his admiration for the political involvement of young people, saying: “Last Night the #Somerville City Council unanimously passed a measure to extend voting to 16- & 17-year-olds. It's a recognition these students are engaged & active citizens, with the biggest possible stake in our collective future.”
High school students have increasingly become part of national policy conversations around gun control and climate change. Teenagers argue that they have a larger stake in today’s policy decisions, since they will be around to see the impacts.
Somerville is the first city in Massachusetts to approve lowering the voting age to 16 years old, but it’s not the only place to consider such a change. Other towns in Massachusetts, including Concord and Northampton, have also voted to pursue legislation to lower the legal voting age. Groups like Vote16 Massachusetts are coordinating efforts across the state to change the law.
And earlier this spring, U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts proposed an amendment to lower the federal voting age to 16. Pressley said in a statement: “Across this nation, young people are leading the way – from gun violence, to climate change, to the future of work – they are organizing, mobilizing, and calling us to action. 'My amendment to H.R. 1, the For The People Act, will strengthen the promise of our nation’s democracy.”
The voting age used to be 21, until it was changed in 1971. Now we don’t blink an eye that 18-year-olds are permitted to vote. If a constitutional amendment is ratified to lower the voting age to 16, the next debate will be whether public high schools should be closed for election day to give 16 and 17-year-olds the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.