We Will Be Heard: Minor Voting

In New York State, the constitution states that voting rights vest in all citizens aged eighteen or older in elections for “all officers elected by the people and upon all questions submitted to the vote of the people.”1 New York’s election law also provides that no person is qualified to vote unless he or she is eighteen on election day.2 We can say with some confidence that there are no cases on point or which interpret to the relevant provisions of the NY Constitution or election law.

A memorandum discussing the legality of lowering the voting age in municipal elections in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the voting age may also soon be lowered, cited no cases on point.3  In New York City’s 2013 election, voter turnout stood at under 25%, the lowest turnout since the mid-20th century.4 In New York State in 2012, voter turnout was 53.2%, five points below the national average.5

A practical solution to low turnout would be to update the current system whereby voters under the age of 18 would be able to vote in municipal elections. This amendment and bill would change their retrospective documents to allow for the age of voting in municipal elections to be lowered to 17.

By allowing younger voters to engage civically in local elections, it is reasonable to expect that these young people would be more likely to vote in the future as they grow older. In fact, a study in Austria demonstrated that voters under the age of 18 had higher turnout rates and were more politically engaged than older first-time voters.6 The experiment was declared “largely positive in all examined aspects.”7 In addition, the municipal voting age has been lowered in Tacoma Park, Maryland,8 with no reported negative effects.

1 N. Y. Const. art. II, § 1.

2 N. Y. Elec. Law § 5-201 (2014).

3 Memorandum from Nic Riley, New 18 Campaign to Gregg Croteau & Geoff Foster, United Teen Equality Center (February 12, 2012) (on file with author).

4 Same Roberts, New York: Voter Turnout Appears to Be Record Low (Nov. 6th, 2013 10:06 A.M), New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/news/election-2013/2013/11/06/new-york-turnout-appears-headed-for-record-low/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.

5 United States Election Project, 2012 General Election Turnout Rates (Jul. 22, 2013), http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2012G.html

6 Austrian National Election Study, The Demand Side: Voting at 16 - Main Results, http://www.timmale.com/uploads/2/9/2/2/2922364/results_voting_at_16_handout.pdf

7 Id.

8 Huffington Post, 16-Year-Olds Able to Vote in Takoma Park, Md. (May 14, 2013 09:40 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/16-year-olds-able-to-vote-_n_3276520.html.

Researched and drafted by Aaron Collins, edited & coded by Martha C. Chemas, Esq., h/t @NYDLC
This work is published via a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

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