Seventeen-year-old Samantha Bevins would really like to vote in Massachusetts’ 2020 presidential primary. So much so that in between studying, writing her own politics blog, and hitting the ice hockey rink, the Milton Academy junior has been pushing for legislation that would let her cast a ballot March 3.
No, she’s not asking Beacon Hill to lower the US constitutional voting age. Bevins will be 18 by the general election in November and thinks that should qualify her to participate in the primary, as well.
Nor is this a novel concept. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have beaten the Commonwealth — so proud of its founding role in American democracy — in adopting laws that permit 17-year-olds to participate in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by Election Day, according to the most recent information from the nonprofit FairVote — though in a few cases it applies only to the state’s Democratic contests.
So far, Bevins has been surprisingly successful in her probably quixotic quest to vote on Super Tuesday, attracting wide attention from lawmakers and the news media for the bill she helped write. The legislation got a hearing last week, despite having been filed in October, relatively late in the two-year lawmaking session. Bevins testified, skipping honors precalculus and a social awareness class.
She brought with her more than 300 letters of support from residents of more than 100 towns.
With sunny determination, Bevins has converted a number of lawmakers to her cause. She argues that the change she seeks is practical, and a civic good.
“I think that if you’re going to be able to vote in the general election and just basically check a box saying which party you’re going to support, you should have some voice in saying who’s going to be the one representing that party,” Bevins explained this month, sitting in the basement office of state Representative Joan Meschino, who represents Bevins’s hometown of Hingham and with whom the 17-year-old worked to draft the legislation.
By participating in primary and general elections in your first political cycle, Bevins argued, “I believe you become, like, more engaged in the whole election process.”
Her campaign for the change began, appropriately enough, at a campaign event: the presidential race kick-off of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York.
Bevins traveled last March with her mother, a close college friend of Gillibrand, to her launch event in New York City. There, a campaign staffer told Bevins that she could help the campaign in Iowa with fellow 17-year-olds, because the state had recently passed legislation permitting those who would be 18 by the general election to participate in the caucuses.
The staffer said she thought that Massachusetts also allowed similarly situated 17-year-olds to vote in its primaries. But a few weeks later, Bevins Googled her way to the disappointing news that while Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, Vermont, and 20 other states do have such a law, Massachusetts is not one of them.
“I started doing research on, like, when certain states had started passing this, like is this a new thing? Just trying to figure out why Massachusetts wasn’t one of them,” Bevins said.
“What I ended up figuring out was that there was no reason that Massachusetts didn’t have it.”
So she pinged her state representative’s office — and Meschino set up a call with her right away.
“She’s the one who persuaded me,” said the Hull Democrat, who doesn’t typically focus on voting issues. After their initial conversation, she asked Bevins to do some more research, “and she persuaded me it was a viable idea.”
Meschino and Bevins reached out to her state senator, Republican Patrick M. O’Connor, who backed the effort, introducing the Senate version of the legislation.
“I was blown away by how much research and how articulate [Bevins] was on the subject matter,” he said.
Studying up on his own, he saw how both red and blue states had passed similar laws.
“This is really a logical step we should take,” he concluded. If someone is going to be eligible to vote in the general election, they also should have a choice in which candidate gets to advance — especially in a state where a primary is so often the more meaningful contest, he said.
Bevins points to research that shows voting is habit-forming, especially among young voters, and statistics that demonstrate their turnout increased in Chicago when Illinois passed similar legislation in 2014.
Bevins said she and her peers are more than ready to participate in the primary process.
“A lot of high-schoolers are on Twitter, and if not, they’re on Instagram,” she said.
“And so it’s inevitable they’re going to see what Trump is saying. And I think that just everyone has an opinion this election cycle.”
Bevins, who turns 18 in October, believes her peers aren’t just keen to vote in the presidential primary. The heated Democratic primary contest between Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is another hot topic.
“Everyone’s talking about that. I mean, high schoolers are like, oh should we — what about Markey, he’s only been there for one term, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Kennedy — oh he’s so young, he’s a Kennedy.”
But those who won’t turn 18 until after the Sept. 1 primary date probably won’t get a say in who the next senator is, given how heavily favored a Democrat is to win that seat.
Just one Republican has officially jumped into the race: technology entrepreneur and provocateur Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran for the Senate in 2018 as an independent and finished a distant third.
Bevin’s precocious lobbying skills notwithstanding, the odds remain long that the slow-moving Legislature would pass her bill in time for Super Tuesday.
“We’re trying,” O’Connor said.
He added that Bevins said it best herself at the State House hearing on Wednesday, asking legislators for the opportunity to vote March 3 — but even if they can’t meet that deadline, they should act “in time for all the generations of youth in Massachusetts still to come.”
“I really hope that she has the opportunity,” he said.