Politics

Boston takes step toward lowering voting age to 16 in city elections

The City Council voted 9-4 to advance a proposal that would change the age required to vote in local-level elections.

Boston City Hall. Keith Bedford/Boston Globe
At City Hall

The majority of Boston city councilors opted to advance a home rule petition that, if approved by the mayor and state lawmakers, would expand the right to vote in city elections to 16- and 17-year-old citizens.

Councilors voted 9-4 to send the measure to Mayor Michelle Wu’s desk. Proponents argue the petition will help encourage young people to participate and engage in their local government.

In fact, many already do, according to Councilor Julia Mejia, a lead sponsor.

Many of the city’s teens pay income tax and have tried to make their voices heard, including through protests and other demonstrations, she said.

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“The notion that young people may not be mature enough to make decisions like this, I just want to quickly acknowledge oftentimes it’s young people who are educating their parents and their uncles and aunts and older folks about who’s running for office and why they should vote,” Mejia said.

The comments appeared to be a rebuttal to concerns raised by opponents of the proposal. Councilors Erin Murphy, Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, and Ed Flynn, the council president, all voted against the petition although none of them spoke out against it during Wednesday’s council meeting.

Murphy at a hearing in March said, however, she believes 16 years old is too young to vote, GBH reports.

“I worry as a parent. I’ve lived through raising three teenagers. They have a lot to offer. I think they’re full of wisdom and have lots of ideas and thoughts, but I also think that they’re very impressionable,” she said.

Murphy, a former teacher, added she’s concerned teens might be pressured to vote a particular way by adults in their lives.

“For me, personally, I would like to see us getting our eligible voters, 18 and older, engaged in voting,” she said, pointing to Boston’s generally low voter turnout. “I would put more energy and efforts into finding out why they’re not coming to the polls.”

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Under the proposal, 16- and 17-year-old citizens could vote only in elections for city offices and ballot measures, and would fill out a voter registration form separate than the one used by voters ages 18 and older.

Upon turning 18, voters who registered to vote as minors would be removed from the city’s separate list and be notified they must register to vote in accordance with state law.

Boston is not the first to consider making the suffrage tweak.

In 2019, Town Meeting voters in Brookline backed a similar move, while the Cambridge City Council and the Somerville City Council each passed a home rule petition of their own. And a number of communities around the state over the past two decades have tried to do the same.

Indeed all have met the same obstacle: Having to win over state lawmakers.

Home rule petitions require Legislature and governor approval. To date, none of these voter age petitions have ever secured those necessary sign-offs.

And Mejia has no illusions about that: “We know what happens at the State House. Most things go there to die,” she said Wednesday.

But Mejia also hopes Boston officials can break that streak.

“I believe this is an opportunity for us to organize other municipalities across the state and create the groundswell support that this initiative deserves,” she said.

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