Milton Academy junior Samantha Bevins’ campaign for a voter law change culminated in a testimony in front of Massachusetts Congress on Jan. 22. With the support of 300 residents and some state bureaucrats, Bevins proposed that 17-year-old pre-registered voters be allowed to vote in the state’s presidential primary if they turn 18 before the November election.
The underlying rationale of this proposal is reasonable. If this group of voters will participate in the general election, they should have a say in the nominees who advance to it. Despite Massachusetts’ founding role in the American democracy, the state’s lawmakers haven’t actualized this self-evident concept, but 24 other states’ legislatures have.
This technicality will be disheartening for first-time voters, especially those who feel strongly about civic engagement and political activism. Not giving them a say in the final nominees partially disenfranchises them. Discouraged voters often end up voting for the lesser of two evils or not vote at all.
Willingness to come out on Election day is underpinned by passion and hopefulness. If the state is sending this message to enthusiastic first-timers like Bevins during a presidential year, it is setting itself up for failure in more “low-stakes” elections.
Bevins’ testimony also raises the following question: why is the voting age for presidential primaries not standardized across state lines? Reconciling these discrepancies in such an enormous population is most definitely a bureaucratic nightmare. But more importantly, voting rights ought to be equitably distributed.
In that regard, her proposal and the problems it illuminates give good reason to overhaul these state-to-state differences. Yet, Bevins’ naivety about politics may strengthen opponents’ ability to pushback.
“A lot of high schoolers are on Twitter, and if not, they’re on Instagram,” Bevins told The Boston Globe. “And so it’s inevitable they’re seeing what Trump is saying. And I think that just everyone has an opinion this election cycle.”
Her reference to social media as teenagers’ news source fails to acknowledge a lack of media literacy among youth. These platforms are swarming with inaccurate information, and some, including Facebook, were very recently implicated in political scandals. While this ignorance may be hers alone — as the face of the proposal — her message can be inappropriately extrapolated to all Massachusetts’ teenagers.
Furthermore, Bevins lets slip that she believes this election is especially important because it involves President Donald Trump. This fixation on candidates — rather than the solutions or problems they present — is how we’ve arrived at today’s highly polarized environment.
The election years that involve Trump aren’t the only ones that matter; participation in politics is not relevant solely in the context of selecting presidents. Elected officials who egg their party leaders for the sake of re-election is why this administration looks the way it does. We empower other citizens as our representatives because we believe they will speak to our best interests, not to climb the Capitol ladder.
While these age-related concerns are legitimate, they aren’t applicable to all young voters. The age difference between the March primary and the November election is miniscule. Bevins may need to work on her media literacy, but she speaks with a sense of civic responsibility that will undoubtedly shape the future of this country, beginning with this legislation.