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City Council Approves Petition to Lower Municipal Election Voting Age to 16

The Cambridge City Council discussed a petition to lower the voting age during their Monday meeting.
The Cambridge City Council discussed a petition to lower the voting age during their Monday meeting. By Steve S. Li
By Maria G. Gonzalez, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council approved an order Monday night that could potentially lower the voting age for Cambridge’s municipal elections.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of forwarding home rule legislation to the Massachusetts State Legislature that would allow citizens aged 16 and older to vote in Cambridge elections for city council, school committee, and local ballot measures.

Currently, under Massachusetts state law, individuals must be 18 and older to vote in municipal elections.

The approval of the home rule petition Monday night marks the third time Cambridge has considered lowering the voting age for its municipal elections. Although the council struck down a 2001 effort to lower the voting age to 16 and 17, it passed two similar measures in 2002 and 2006. Both the 2002 and 2006 petitions, however, were not ultimately approved by the state legislature.

Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon acknowledged the petition’s unsuccessful past during Monday’s city council meeting.

“This isn't the first time this home rule legislation has left this building with a positive recommendation to the state legislature and not — unfortunately — gone anywhere,” Mallon said.

“But I do think that the tide is turning,” she added.

Mallon also said that over the past year a new civics curriculum in Massachusetts has encouraged high school students in Cambridge to engage with municipal elections.

“They held mock debates, they looked at all of our platforms, they wrote op-eds, they invited members in to have debates. They asked some really hard questions,” she said. “I would say that our young people were actually more involved and understood more who was running and what they stood for than a lot of people.”

Councilor Timothy J. Toomey said he was concerned the new legislation would present too drastic of a change to the current voting age.

“I certainly appreciate the activism and the passion of our young people and getting involved with this is so extremely important,” Toomey said. “But I do strongly feel that the minimum age to be able to cast a vote should be 17 and I will continue to support that.”

Councilor Toomey and Councilor Patricia M. Nolan ’80 both voted against the petition, while Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon, Councilor Marc C. McGovern, Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Councilor Dennis J. Carlone, Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan, and Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler voted in favor.

Students who spoke during the meeting said the city needs to be more inclusive of youth voices.

Sydney Down, a Cambridge Rindge and Latin student and member of the Cambridge Youth Council, said the voting preferences of students — as demonstrated in her school’s mock election — did not line up with the actual results of the city’s recent school committee election.

“Through this and the subsequent unrest within the entirety of the community, it is evident that youth voice is not reflected enough,” Down said.

At the end of her comment, Down emphasized the benefits of including younger voices in city decisions.

“Lowering the voting age will only further support young people in being civically engaged and responsible citizens as they gain the ability to contribute to making our towns, cities, and states equitable and sustainable communities,” she said.

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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