Beverly students push for lower voting age

Beverly High School seniors Marley Norton, Nathan Levin, Rory Devlin and Emily Zieff, left to right, spoke to the City Council Monday night. Paul Leighton/Staff photo

BEVERLY – Four seniors from Beverly High School made a pitch to city councilors Monday night to let 16- and 17-year-olds vote in Beverly’s local elections, starting this November.

The students, members of a group called Vote16Beverly, said teens are mature and informed enough to vote and should be given the chance to develop the voting habit early.

“Sixteen-year-olds can drive. They can pay taxes. They can get married,” Nathan Levin said during a presentation to the City Council. “But they can’t vote.”

The Vote16Beverly group, which includes Rory Devlin, Marley Norton and Emily Zieff, is part of national movement to lower the voting age for local elections. The City Council and Mayor Mike Cahill would need to approve a home-rule petition to make the change in Beverly. The petition would then be voted on by the state Legislature.

Levin said 16- and 17-year-olds should be able to vote in city elections because the issues at that level, from school safety to road repairs, affect them directly. 

He also noted that fewer than 25 percent of Beverly’s registered voters voted in the 2017 local election. Levin said younger voters can influence their parents to vote. In Takoma Park, Maryland, which became the first city in the country to allow 16-year-olds to vote, the turnout more than doubled in later elections, he said.

Devlin said local elections are a good place for young people to start voting because the issues are most often not divided along Democrat and Republican lines.

“By allowing first-time voters their first experience in municipal elections, they’re going to have to make these decisions based on merit and where these candidates stand on the issues, not based off of the letter that is next to your name,” Devlin said.

Zieff addressed what she said is a “misconception” that younger voters would vote the same as their parents. She said a survey in Scotland, where 16-year-olds can vote, showed that 40 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds planned to vote differently than their parents.

City councilors will consider the students’ proposal at a later date. But several councilors praised them for their presentation, and a couple of them indicated their support.

“I have learned a lot from you, and you have really challenged some of my own assumptions and my own misconceptions,” Councilor Julie Flowers said. “You have more than convinced me.”

“Older voters might be inspired by greater enthusiasm and participation by younger voters,” Councilor Scott Houseman said. “For me this is a matter of trying to strengthen our democracy.”

School Committee members John Mullady and Lorinda Visnick, who heard a presentation from the students last week, also spoke in support of the change, as did resident Elizabeth Ciampa.

The students said Beverly is one of eight communities in Massachusetts that are considering the lower voting age.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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