William C. Newman: Urges Legislature to OK Northampton’s request to lower voting age

Published: 9/7/2021 1:46:30 PM

The ACLU of Massachusetts supports an “Act Amending the Charter of the City of Northampton to Allow Residents 16 and Older to Vote in Preliminary and City Elections” now before the Massachusetts Legislature. Here’s why.

The Bill, H830, is a home-rule petition in which the city has requested the necessary approval from the state to amend its charter to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. The proposal has been overwhelmingly, indeed unanimously, supported by the Northampton City Council and the mayor as well as members of the School Committee and the Northampton Youth Commission.

United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that states are the laboratories of democracy for our country. Similarly, municipalities are the laboratories of democracy for our state. The state should allow the city permission to extend democracy as it has requested.

And, really, it’s not much of an experiment. Studies show that 16- and 17-year olds have the ability and maturation to make informed electoral decisions and that in places where they have been allowed to vote they do so conscientiously and with discernment.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of teaching various classes at Northampton High School to 16- and 17-year-olds. The level of discussions and analysis in those classes was equal to that in the many college classrooms where I have taught.

These young people work, pay taxes, drive cars and participate fully in our community. They want to engage in the issues that affect their lives and the lives and well-being and future of their friends and families.

Voting becomes an ingrained part of their civic engagement that lasts a lifetime. Hopefully our local elected representatives will continue their advocacy for this law and the Legislature will soon enact it. The voices of these young people should be encouraged and heard.

William C. Newman

Director, Western Massachusetts Law Office, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

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