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’m also writing a book right now (if any of you are literary agents for fiction books, contact me 🙂 ). I ran for School Committee last fall on a socially liberal and fiscally conservative platform and while I didn’t 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.