Northampton explores lowering voting age for city elections

  • Northampton City Hall. File photo

@BeraDunau
Published: 5/10/2018 12:17:52 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The city is on the verge of petitioning the state Legislature to allow it to lower the voting age for municipal elections to 16.

Councilors expressed enthusiasm for the idea at their May 3 meeting, at which they referred the resolution to committee for review.

The resolution is an appeal for the council to draft a home rule petition to the Legislature to allow it to lower the voting age.

“This has been in discussion now for almost 2½ years,” said Councilor At-Large William Dwight, one of the resolution’s sponsors.

Dwight noted how high school students had successfully organized a nationwide protest, the March for Our Lives, in favor of new gun control measures on March 24, in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Dwight recommended that the resolution be referred to the council’s Committee on Legislative Matters, so that it could be subject to a more expansive discussion and possible amendment.

Although Dwight said one does not have to be wise to vote, he said that the youth have shown evident wisdom recently. By contrast, he knocked the wisdom of his own age cohort, citing the election of President Donald Trump.

Dwight also said that some of the arguments against youth voting are similar to those used against extending the franchise to black people and women.

“Northampton may have the opportunity to be the first community in the state of Massachusetts to do this,” said Dwight, although he noted that it’s not the first to think of it.

He also noted that other communities are looking at lowering the voting age, including Holyoke and a group in the Hilltowns.

Ward 7 Councilor Alisa Klein said that the best and most robust political discussions she’s had recently are with her teenage nieces, noting that her 17-year-old niece was a lead organizer of the March for Our Lives in Medford.

“I’m all for this,” she said.

She also noted that an effort to lower the voting age in Lowell was ruled unconstitutional by the secretary of state. Dwight said that the ruling was easily challengeable, and that the current political mood may have shifted the political stage in the resolution’s favor.

“Perhaps the secretary could be persuaded to suddenly recognize that this is constitutionally correct,” he said

The Youth Commission is also a sponsor of the resolution.

“I really appreciate the work of the youth commission once again,” Ward 3 Councilor James Nash said.

Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell also expressed his support.

“If it were to come to be I think we’d be enormously proud,” said Bidwell.

Ward 4 Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra and Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge also voiced their support, as did City Council President Ryan O’Donnell.

“This is awesome,” said LaBarge.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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