Changing the Voting Age? I Don’t Think So!

Okay, so I’m not the favorite Representative among teenagers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city so liberal that it’s often called the People’s Republic of Cambridge.

I just voted against letting 17-year-olds vote in their local elections.

There are a variety of reasons to oppose this legislation. At least I think so. The teenagers, of course, disagree.

We heard testimony from several supporters—and no dissenters--at a hearing held in the State House last month before the Election Laws Committee.

Cambridge would be the first and only city in the nation to lower the voting age from 18 to 17, for local elections only, if the bill passes.

A group of students at Cambridge Middle School devised the plan. They “set out to change the world,” one testified, but soon realized that they really couldn’t do that so they settled on the voting issue.

They did spend a lot of time on it, finally winning the support of the City Council by an 8-1 vote. Therefore, it is a so-called “home rule petition,” which Representatives and Senators from outside a district generally take a hands-off approach. But, the bill does need legislative approval.

Testifying before the committee, one student named Jesse said that 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote while they’re still in high school and before they go to college, to help get them involved in the political process. Once they go off to college, he explained, they don’t vote, so they don’t get into a lifelong habit of voting.

And, because 18 to 24 year olds very seldom vote, the Cambridge plan would solve the problem, he and others explained. Jesse, again: ”We think lowering the voting age could be part of the cure for that malaise.”

Stephanie told us that she hoped to influence school committee elections in particular. “We should be allowed to vote because we’re the ones in school, we’re the ones with the firsthand contact,” she said.

Adrienne testified that “It’s about youth power, being able to vote on issues that are important.”

Even Representative Paul Demakis, who represents part of Cambridge, approved of the idea, saying it “would be a wonderful experiment to try”

I disagree. We shouldn’t “experiment” with voting rights. And at least some negative reaction was sent out by the State House News Service, which headlined their release “Cambridge Plan to Lower Voting Age Faces Tough Climb on Beacon Hill.”

I’m adamantly opposed, as the service noted, basically because I think the teenagers lack the maturity.

My fellow Republican on the Committee, Rep. Thomas George from Yarmouth agrees with me. He said he couldn’t support lowering the voting age to 17 in Cambridge because “there’s a certain level of maturity that is needed” George said. “I just think it’s a little out of sorts.”

But my opposition goes deeper than that.

There are some logistical problems involved. When, like this year, there may be state elections for the State Representatives and Senator from Cambridge, how do the ballots sort out local issues from state issues.

If the teens can only vote on local issues, are there different ballots? Different voting lists?

Could, for instance, a 17-year-old run for office, or sign nomination papers for a candidate?

Is this fair to teenagers in the other 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth? If it is good for one city is it good for all? And, if it is good for one city, and good for all, let’s just change the laws and let 17 year olds vote for everything. But, how do we handle national elections, when they can’t vote?

State legislators said they doubted that lowering the voting age would spark more interest in politics.

Sensibly, Committee Chair Joseph Wagner of Chicopee said, “While we can legislate a lot of things on Beacon Hill, we can’t necessarily legislate away voter apathy.”

I guess that’s a problem for all ages. Voter apathy. And Joe’s right. We can’t legislate it away.

So, vote in September and November. If you’re old enough.

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