Telegram and Gazette: Lowering voting age bolsters democracy, civic engagement in Mass.

"As we give young folks a pat on the back for their impressive rate of civic engagement, we should also enact policies that encourage them to get involved earlier and stay engaged."

This opinion was originally published in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Read it here. 

Young people are keeping our democracy alive. In 2020, voter turnout among college students jumped to a staggering 66%, beating turnout among the general public and showing the rest of the country that Generation Z can do much more than just post online about the issues that matter to them.

And it didn’t end in 2020. Though midterm elections usually see poor turnout, a whopping 28.4% of young people cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm. Analysis of Census data by Tufts University shows that young people voted at a higher rate in that election than millennials (23%), Gen X-ers (23.5%) and boomers (27.9%) did in midterm elections they could participate in for the first time. Where this energy is missing, however, is in local elections in Massachusetts, which have had historically low turnout rates over the last decade.

As we give young folks a pat on the back for their impressive rate of civic engagement, we should also enact policies that encourage them to get involved earlier and stay engaged. One powerful way to motivate young people to continue participating is to get them voting earlier, by allowing municipalities to lower the voting age for local elections to 16 or 17.

Local governments in many municipalities across Massachusetts — including Boston, Cambridge, Lowell and Somerville — have sent “home rule petitions” to the state Legislature formally requesting the authority to lower the voting age for local elections. This bureaucratic process could be eliminated with the passage of thEMPOWER Act filed by Rep. Andres Vargas as H.725 and by Sen. Rebecca Rausch as S.438, which would give municipal governments the power to pass election reforms without requiring state approval.

Massachusetts already allows people as young as 16 to preregister to vote, and with good reason. Studies have shown that instilling the importance of voting in young people is crucial in establishing voting as a lifelong habit.

We know that voting is habitual. By allowing young people to vote while they still live with their parents, in communities they are connected to, before they turn 18 and enter a decade of mobility that can contribute to low participation, we’re setting them up to be engaged citizens for decades to come. Similar initiatives have been tremendously successful in Takoma Park and Hyattsville, Maryland.

Massachusetts has the opportunity to be a leader in youth engagement. As more eligible Americans participate in our elections, our democracy becomes stronger. Lowering the voting age in municipal elections has proven benefits and no discernible drawbacks.

Young people are already active participants in our communities. They have jobs and driver’s licenses, they pay taxes, and they can volunteer for political campaigns and initiatives. Their older peers are turning out in droves to use their voices and cast their votes.

As city elections suffer poor turnout, consider what we could accomplish if we allowed an engaged and excited group of young people to participate, too. If you want to see this happen, contact your representatives and tell them to pass H.725 and S.438.