LOWELL, Mass.—We are teenagers – 17-year-old teenagers – and at a time of increasing voter apathy, we want to vote. We’ve come up with a way to encourage our peers to become good life-long voters and combat decreased voter turnout – by lowering the voting age to 17 in our hometown’s municipal elections here in Lowell.
Our bill, currently in a statehouse committee, would provide for a city ballot question in November 2013 to let Lowell voters decide whether or not 17-year-olds can vote in its municipal elections, and only its municipal elections. If yes, 17-year-olds will be able to vote in 2015, for the first time anywhere in the country. Lowell has led in historic efforts before: from the Industrial Revolution to Mill Girl strikes to having the first co-ed high school in the country. We are ready to lead again.
We started the voting age movement after a 2009 youth-led city council candidates’ forum held by a nonprofit youth development organization, the United Teen Equality Center (better known as UTEC, where we serve as youth organizers). Before the forum, teens surveyed hundreds of their peers to find out what the top issues were. Youth representation was among the top three issues. All city council candidates were asked if they would support lowering the voting age to 17 in our local elections; 18 out of 19 said yes.
In 2010, the Lowell City Council successfully passed a home-rule petition that was sent to the Statehouse. With its favorable passage from the Joint Committee on Election Laws, our bill has now made it further than any other bill of its kind. Now our bill has to go through both the House and Senate floor to reach the governor’s desk by July 31. After the governor receives our bill, it will come back to Lowell for a final vote.
It seems illogical for 18 to be the voting-age threshold. Eighteen-year-olds are either starting work or going to college, often in a city far from home. At best, they find that their first opportunity to vote locally is by mailing in an absentee ballot. Seventeen-year-olds are still at home, likely still in school and definitely still affected by their local politics. They are directly impacted by local policies affecting our schools and community. Seventeen-year-olds are surrounded with the support they need to be coached through practicing their civic rights. They are in the last stage of their lives before they leave and begin adulthood. It is at this age that the next generation should be taught and guided through voting.