Legislators support lowering voting age in local, state elections

  • MARK




Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2020 11:25:19 PM

Almost five decades ago, the voting age in the United States was lowered from 21 to 18. Now, some state legislators would like to see it lowered even more, allowing 16- or 17-year-olds to vote in state and local elections.

“I am supportive of lowering the voting age as I believe we should engage young people in our democracy at a younger age — while they are at home and supported by family members and educators — to help strengthen their lasting engagement and democratic participation,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “Young people deserve to have a say in their government as to who gets elected and other various vote outcomes that may very well affect their lives in years to come.”

Comerford said she favors a statewide voting age change, but barring that, would be in favor or a local option to consider lowering the voting age through local processes. Wendell, Ashfield and Shelburne approved lowering the voting age to 16 for local elections during their annual Town Meetings in 2017.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he thinks lowering the voting age, at least in local elections, is a good idea, though he doesn’t believe the issue is getting a lot of attention at the State House. As a concept, he doesn’t see why not.

“Sixteen-year-olds can drive and work, so why not be able to vote?” he said.

Mark said there’s been talk about at least allowing people who will be 18 by November elections to vote in primaries earlier in the year, when they are 17 years old.

Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said she thinks it is important to involve as many people as possible who are excited and invested in the democratic process.

“We have a new generation of young people who are excited to be involved in government, whether it be through voting or serving on town boards and committees,” Blais said. “Involving them early in the process invites different perspectives, enriches the conversation and has the potential to anchor them to our communities at a time when we desperately need our young people to choose to stay.”

In January 2019, legislation was filed in the Massachusetts House and Senate concerning lowering the voting age for local elections, stirring discussions that have not reached any conclusions.

Two competing bills are before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws. One would allow the municipal voting age to drop to 17 and the other would lower it to 16. The proposals would give cities and towns the option to allow 16- or 17-year-olds to vote in elections. Municipalities can do so now, but such moves would have to be approved through a home-rule process in the Legislature.

One bill has been filed by Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, on behalf of Wendell. It would allow younger voters, but anyone running for town office would still have to be at least 18 years old.

Whipps, who is part of the five-person delegation in Franklin County — Whipps, Comerford, Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, Blais and Mark — said she had not given the idea much thought before Wendell reached out to her, but that it made her happy that young people are so interested in elections and the decisions that come out of them.

Whipps said many people ages 16 and 17 work and pay taxes that support the town directly and indirectly, even though they may not pay property taxes. These include income, sales, gasoline, excise and, in many municipalities, local meals taxes.

“These home rule petitions have started an interesting conversation,” Whipps said, “and I look forward to hearing from more community members regarding this.”

Greg Vine contributed to this story. Anita Fritz can be reached at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.

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