LOWELL — City councilors are hoping to broaden the city’s voter base, while fanning the flame of civic engagement in young people while they are still in school.
Last night, they approved a motion made by Patrick Murphy to draft a home-rule petition aimed at lowering the voting age from 18 to 17 for municipal elections.
The motion passed in an 8-1 vote, with Edward “Bud” Caulfield voting in opposition.
The issue first arose at a candidates’ night hosted by the United Teen Equality Center in October 2009. When asked if they would support lowering the voting age to 17, all of the candidates, with the exception of Caulfield, said they would support such a move.
Murphy said last night that if a 17-year-old can enlist in the military, he or she should be able to vote.
He added that he brought the motion forward in an effort to “try to encourage greater participation in our democracy.” He added that UTEC is working to reintroduce civics and citizenship lessons into the classroom and if 17-year-olds were granted the right to vote, “those lessons would be much more effective and you’d see lifelong habits form.”
“I think we should do anything we can to encourage more people to vote,” said Councilor Bill Martin. “I would be in favor of banning pandering from our discussions in this chamber. Our meetings would go much faster.”
Martin added that lowering the voting age to 17 would make it easier to register to vote because teens could register through school.
“It is a way to capture those people while they are still in Lowell (before they go away to college),” he added. “Just because it is a long shot at the Statehouse doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I don’t see the harm at all. It could only yield good results.”
Casting ballots at 17? They vote yes
Lowell teens mobilize behind petition to lower minimum age in city elections
By Jennifer Myers, email@example.com
LOWELL — It is Thursday afternoon at the United Teen Equality Center on Hurd Street. A group of 16-year-old Lowell High School students are hanging out in an upstairs room.
What’s the buzz? The latest Drake song? Lindsay Lohan’s most recent rehab stay? Who the Octomom is dating?
No. They’re engaged in a passionate discussion about democracy.
Empowered by the City Council’s 8-1 vote two nights prior to send a home-rule petition to Beacon Hill that, if approved, would lower the voting age for city elections from 18 to 17, the city’s next generation of leaders is ready to mobilize.
“Teens, as a group, feel we are not represented,” says Susan Le, 16. “Most of us have been paying taxes since we were 14 and we just have policies put on us without a say, when we really do have a lot to offer.”
The council’s vote came on a motion made by Councilor Patrick Murphy, which was prompted by a 2009 candidates night hosted by UTEC. During that forum, every candidate, with the exception of City Councilor Edward “Bud” Caulfield, said they would support a movement to lower the voting age to 17 in municipal elections.
As for the city’s Statehouse delegation, Senator-elect Eileen Donoghue says she would support the home-rule petition, while the city’s three state representatives are more hesitant to take a stance.
“I applaud the idea of having more civic involvement and think that 17 is an adequate age to make decisions,” Donoghue says. “I would like to see Civics brought back to the schools because knowledge of how government works does not come naturally to people.”
Back at UTEC, Lowell High student Bourin You says he has not heard an argument against lowering the voting age that holds any water. He has a message for the naysayers.
“Stop being ignorant and afraid of change,” said Bourin You, 16. “Just in this room are a handful of young adults who know what we are talking about and engaged in civic matters and there are a whole lot more of us in the city of Lowell.”
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(Credit: Jennifer Myers, The Sun)