The Boston City Council on Wednesday approved a petition that would allow 16- and 17-year-old residents to vote in municipal elections.
The council voted 9-4 in support of the proposal, which grants local — but not state or federal — voting rights to some Boston teens, as long as they fulfill state requirements, including being a United States citizen and not being incarcerated for a felony conviction. Under the proposed law, those who register at 16 or 17 would also be pre-registered to vote in state and federal elections once they turn 18. Massachusetts already allows people as young as 16 to pre-register to vote.
The petition will now be sent to the Massachusetts Legislature for approval, which is not guaranteed. Similar proposals had been approved in recent years in Cambridge and Somerville, but neither cleared the State House.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok told the Globe the city is ready to begin registering young voters as soon as the petition makes it through the Legislature.
“There’s already some of the architecture there for keeping separate lists, and we’ve had willingness from the Election Department throughout this process,” said Bok, who sponsored the petition. “Knowing what I know about the timeline of State House deliberation, I think it’s more likely that we would have it in place for the 2025 local elections.”
Bok said lowering the voting age would help young people build a habit of voting and make them more likely to continue engaging with their government later in life. She added that those interested in registering are likely already engaged in politics.
“We don’t apply a maturity index to the right to vote for any other age,” Bok said. “Having the opportunity to vote is what gives our 16- and 17-year-olds a chance to engage meaningfully.”
Chuck Corra, associate director of coalitions and policy research at Generation Citizen, said a lower voting age is becoming increasingly popular across the country, like in Maryland, where some cities currently allow 16-year-olds to vote.
Corra argued that 16-year-olds can already get their drivers’ licenses and work in most states, so “it’s only natural that we should be able to trust young people of that age to be able to vote and have a say in the policies that are affecting them.”
“It comes back to taxation with representation in its purest form,” Corra said.
In an interview, Councilor Julia Mejia, who also sponsored the petition, said society already entrusts young people with certain adult responsibilities and argued the change would help fuel voter participation in low-income neighborhoods, where she already sees young people educating their parents and motivating adults to vote.
“Young people are working, paying taxes,” Mejia said. “When it comes to making a decision as to who’s going to represent them, that has been denied to them.”
But Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said bringing the voting age any lower than 18 “just doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re asking adults to weigh their ballot compared to children,” he said. “Even if you have some children that are really mature for that age, everyone can acknowledge that 16-, 17-year-olds are still developing.”
Craney said high school students face more intense peer-pressure than older communities. He said high school is designed to educate students in democracy, and significant personal development takes place between 16 and 18. He said residents need to consider whether those teens should be saddled with “that type of pressure.”
“I’m all for 16- and 17-year-olds going to volunteer for campaigns. I’m all for getting them immersed in the democratic process,” Craney said. “But I think there is a big, distinct difference [between that and] throwing ballots in front of them and asking them to make these decisions when they’re minors.”