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Somerville passes measure to lower voting age to 16, but hurdles remain

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. (Craig F. Walker/Globe staff)

The Somerville City Council voted to lower its local voting age Thursday, starting a process that — if successful — would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to cast ballots in municipal elections.

The measure, which was passed unanimously, requires approval from the Legislature before it can be implemented. Several communities, including Concord, have tried in the past to enact similar teen voting measures, but so far none have succeeded in securing state approval.

Still, Mayor Joseph Curtatone said Somerville would be the first community in the state to enact a voting age of 16 if its proposal is approved by state lawmakers.

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In an interview, Curtatone acknowledged it could take time to see changes at the state level.

“It takes continued engagement and advocacy,” Curtatone said. “It wasn’t easy for the voting age to be lowered from 21 to 18.”

But he vowed to press for approval and praised the activism of young people in seeking the vote.

“They have so much to offer; they have been out there leading the charge for social equity and social progress,” he said. “They’re showing us in so many ways what leadership looks like.”

A surge of teen activism in recent years, often fueled by national issues like climate change and gun control, has spurred the conversation about voting age at all levels of government — but no formal initiatives have gained much traction.

There’s a bill in the Massachusetts Legislature that would eliminate the need for cities and towns to get state approval for lowering their voting age (it was referred to a committee in January without further action).

US Representative Ayanna Pressley, whose district includes Somerville, recently pushed an amendment in Congress that would lower the voting age in federal elections to 16. But there was not a great appetite for the idea even in the Democrat-controlled US House, and the amendment failed, 305-126.

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Governor Charlie Baker has also expressed skepticism of the idea of those under 18 at the ballot box, telling reporters at the time of Pressley’s announcement that he was “dubious” about it after raising three teenagers.

One young activist, Felix Brody, praised the result of the City Council vote Friday.

“It feels really great,” the 17-year-old Somerville resident said. “It’s a huge victory for Somerville and for the rest of Massachusetts.”

Brody, who has been involved in the campaign to lower the voting age, said teenagers are facing many of the same responsibilities as adults, with many holding down jobs and sometimes dealing with mental health issues while juggling school responsibilities.

“And they’re paying taxes,” Brody said.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.