I Have A ‘Radical’ Idea

First off, thank you for the invite to post here. I appreciate it. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Cyrus Vaghar and I am a college student and Newton North High School Alum. I‚Äôm also writing a book right now (if any of you are literary agents for fiction books, contact me ūüôā ). I ran for School Committee last fall on a socially liberal and fiscally conservative platform and while I didn‚Äôt win, I hope some of my ideas spread back to our elected officials.

Numerous people in Newton have been complaining about voter turnout being low in municipal elections. You can find some examples here, here and here. I don’t think there is an easy solution to solve this problem, but in the words of Bernie Sanders, I have a radical idea:

Let students 16+ (or 14+) vote in School Committee elections.

As of now, you must be 18 to vote in any political race in Newton. This includes the City Council, School Committee, Mayoral races, but it also includes any National races as well. By the time a student turns 18, many of them have missed the fall election of their senior year, and are unable to vote for the first time until the following year, in which many of them are long gone for college, trade school or the job world. It’s no surprise that many of them never get around to voting, especially at the local level.

Here is why I think lowering the voting age would be a strong first step to solve our low voter turnout problem:

1. Students would learn how to vote:¬† Many students don’t even know how to vote. The LOWVN does a decent job encouraging voter registration during a student’s senior year of high school, but that doesn’t actually encourage them go to the polls. As stated above, many of them are out of high school by the time they can even vote in local elections.

2. It would hold School Committee candidates¬†responsible: When I ran for School Committee last fall, I was the only candidate (as far as I know), who actually talked to multiple students to¬†hear their concerns. While Newton’s students are¬†not able vote, and therefor have essentially have no say, I truly believe that they know¬†the problems going on our their schools better than we, as outsiders, think we do. Additionally, if students who were 16 years old (or 14) or older could vote, School Committee candidates would be forced to campaign to the students they were¬†representing.

3. Student’s deserve a vote: If you are unaware of the School Committee’s current makeup, there are nine voting members (the mayor + eight elected members). There are also two student non-voting members. While the student members sound like a good idea, they can be drowned out just as easily as they can be listened to. While in a perfect world the student members (who are elected by students) should have a vote, letting older students vote in our local elections¬†would serve as a compromise.

I’ll address a few¬†myths that i’m sure people will come up with.

1. Students are not mature enough to vote: Our two public high schools are consistently ranked as some of the best in the country. If you don’t think that 16¬†year olds (or 14) have the mental capability to go to a polling booth, take ten seconds to pull out their smartphones and check out the candidate’s ideas that appear in front of them before circling in a dot next to their name like they do hundreds of times on the MCAS every year, then you must think that our schools are in shambles. I have yet to hear that complaint. Additionally, letting students vote would serve as a great lesson in history classes that could be built into the curriculum.

2. No taxes, no vote: This argument can be defined as since many of our students don’t pay taxes, they shouldn’t get a vote. The truth is, many of our students over the age of 14 do work and therefor do pay taxes. I’m not familiar with how local taxes come out of your paycheck, but i’m confident many of our students do pay taxes. One might make the argument that by paying so little in local taxes, students should still be barred from voting, but remember Newton has many near-billionaires. I guarantee you that they would make many Newtons citizen’s amount payed in taxes look tiny. Lastly, while many of Newton’s older residents do not work, no one would argue that they don’t have just as much a right to vote as anyone else.

3. It’s illegal for anyone under 18 to vote: You are probably thinking of the 26th amendment which¬†disallows states from using age over 18 as a reason to bar someone to vote.¬†On the local level, there is nothing, as far as I know, that would disallow a proposal and subsequent implementation¬†of allowing 16 year olds (or 14) to vote. In fact, many cities and towns have voted on this same issue¬†across the country. Some examples are here, here and here.

Maybe, just maybe, we can make this happen. We see the same complaints come up every month: “No one votes!,” “Only ¬†the same few people care,” “Eight percent voter turnout isn’t enough.” ¬†I know my “radical” plan of lowering the voting age will not¬†solve our lower voter turnout problem, but it would be a start. Even if just a few students learn how to vote and continue to vote past the age of eighteen, and hopefully for the rest of their life, then I would consider it a success.

The time is now. The Charter has been opened for the first time in decades, we have some great City Councillors, School Committee members, Charter Commission members, and a fine mayor. I’m sure many of them would like to be popular with the youth vote when they pursue higher office, so here is their chance to do something about it and make lowering the voting age a ballot question for November 2017. If anyone on this blog is attending a Charter Commission meeting in the near future and would like to bring this idea up, please let me know. I wish¬†I was in Newton more often because I would do it myself.

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Matt YospinGreer SwistonlynnerobbinsmfidelmanLynne LeBlanc Recent comment authors
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Colleen Minaker

I have always believed that students rarely get to express their concerns about their education. Please tell us more about changes teenagers would implement if they could. My oldest son did a PG year at Philips Exeter. That year prepared him for college and restored his love of learning which was stifled at public school.

Jess Barton

Great post Cyrus and I hope your freshman year has been going great! I just saw a segment on Chronicle about the Cambridge Youth Council (you can watch the report here at 2:33, http://www.wcvb.com/chronicle/whiz-kids-making-a-difference/37540888) and am wondering if Newton has a similar program? From the news segment it seems that the council does many things including work on policy, closing the achievement gap, and helping middle school students select their high school classes. Maybe you could help get one started if it doesn’t exist yet.

Julia Malakie

If nothing else, I think the prospect of 16-year-olds voting might motivate many of the non-voters in Newton (80 percent of registered voters in the last city election) to get out and vote themselves! I do support the idea of allowing 16-year-olds to vote in city elections, and not restricting it to School Committee. I’d have to think about 14-year-olds, but perhaps in School Committee elections their input would be useful. I’ve been impressed by so many of the high school students I meet — not just in Newton, but the ones I meet through work in the towns the Lowell Sun covers. And I wouldn’t assume they have the same opinions as their parents. I’m guessing the voting age for a particular election has to be the same statewide. (Anyone know for sure?) I don’t think Newton could allow its 16-17 year olds to vote in a statewide election when other municipalities don’t, as it would give Newton disproportionate influence. But I know of at least one more effort, as yet unsuccessful, to lower the voting age for municipal elections. The UTEC (United Teen Equality Center) in Lowell has been leading an effort to lower the voting age for city elections to 17, and it requires legislation to be passed at the Statehouse. I’m not sure if it’s a home rule petition to change the city charter or what, exactly. This is the last article I can find about it: http://www.lowellsun.com/rss/ci_22456317 There is a Twitter account that’s a little… Read more »

Lynne LeBlanc

Though you present a good number of reasons to let students vote, there is something about that idea cannot be brooked from my perspective. I’d also like to point out that one side of science pushes the notion that the teenage brain is immature, impulsive, and prone to self-interest and peer pressure. 16 seems young.

Miles Fidelman
Miles Fidelman

Great idea. You’ve got my vote.

Lynne Robbins
Lynne Robbins

Perhaps one way to approach the problem of Newton’s low turnout, housing, votes etc might be to go on social media ‘aka’ Mrs Obama’s initiatives (The Vine) and publicize?….. also have volunteers sharing info at the stores-weekly,
consistently…old saying,
it pays to advertise…??

Greer Swiston

I totally agree that we need to expose kids to the election process and more importantly, the importance of how governing starts local. I will argue that the maturity of the youth grows with the gradual, but steady exposure to responsibility. So what about school elections? When I was a Girl Scout leader, we used voting paddles, even in our Daisy Troop, as a means to expose the girls to the idea of voting and participating in decisions. As the grew older, we would discuss the concept of respectiful debate, voting and majority rule. We discuss while ultimately, every thing came down to a “yay” or “nay” vote, that very few things only have two sides. I remember helping my sister design posters and plan the campaign for her friend Laurie who was running for student government in Middle School. The slogan was “Vote for Laurie and you won’t be sorry”. How disappointed I was to discover that our High School, Newton North High School, did not seem to have such democracy. There are few candidates for student council and they all seem to be appointed rather than elected. About 5 or 6 years ago, I helped a young friend who was interested in getting more involved in politics. He told me that the Student Council at the high school got very little attention, there were few candidates, so anyone who wanted to serve more or less just got on or more likely, was asked by a teacher to serve.… Read more »

Matt Yospin

Apparently, at least some high school students here have more maturity and decency than many of the adults who shamefully embarrassed themselves at Newton’s public meeting last Thursday on addressing prejudice and bigotry in Newton. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/04/07/activists-disrupt-newton-forum-prejudice/L2BaSX5YUNs3gkhERUI9AL/story.html) All those adults get to vote by virtue of their age. Seems fair to let teenagers vote too.

Cyrus, I’m with you on this.