Approximately 30 chanting high school students burst into the lobby of Cambridge City Hall during last night’s Council meeting to support lowering the city’s voting age to 16.
The students, mostly from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, pointed to flagging voter turnout in recent elections among 18-24 year-olds to justify lowering the voting age during testimony before the councilors.
By teaching good voting habits in high school, the students from the Campaign for a Democratic future said they hope to reduce apathy in young voters. The 16-year-old vote would have a “trickle-up effect” and involve the parents of active, voting high school students in politics.
“A lot of people, their first impression is ‘Oh, they’re too immature to vote,” said Cambridge Rindge and Latin School junior Jesse Baer. “A lot of my friends, I don’t want them to vote. But I know a lot of adults; I don’t want them to vote either.”
Cambridge Mayor Anthony Galluccio supported lowering the voting age, but said he felt more comfortable with 17-year-old voters. High school students are uniquely exposed to public issues through contact with teachers and other students in a unique social atmosphere, he said.
“When engaged, young people are very opinionated,” he said. “I think this is part of a more far reaching goal of engaging young people in government.”
Supporters argued that every student should be eligible to vote once in high school. If 16 year olds were barred from voting, every other graduating class would hit the polls because Cambridge holds elections for the City Council and school board every two years.
“It’s important to get one vote before you leave high school,” said 17-year-old Ben Somberg. “I think there’s a certain significance to it.”
The proposal would only allow 16 year olds to vote for members of the Cambridge City Council and school board. To pass, the measure needs a majority vote from the city’s nine representatives, Galluccio said. If the council did adopt the voting law ordinance, the state Legislature would have to approve the change.
At the hearing, the mayor, the deputy mayor and four out of five City Council members present expressed their support. Galluccio said a similar ordinance failed to pass last year in a 4-4 tie. The current proposal would probably pass what he called a “new” Council.
The students found the Council receptive to the proposal.
“I was going to say how interested we are in doing things, things in the community, but everyone on the Council has already said that,” said student David Prum.
The proposal, however, was not without its detractors.
George Goverman, a Cambridge election commissioner, told the committee that lowering the voting age would open the door to lowering the age for tobacco and alcohol consumption, body piercing, tattoos and conscription.
“I think you’re making dangerous distinctions,” he said.