Never Stop, Never Stop Fighting 'Til The Fight Is Done

(Editors note: A recent blog post on the issue of minor voting caused quite a stir. In the interest of beating the America we were yesterday, we have added some content, just in time for Independence Day. Happy birthday America! xo, s28.)

In New York City’s 2013 election, voter turnout stood at under 25%, the lowest turnout since the mid-20th century. In New York State in 2012, voter turnout was 53.2%, five points below the national average.

It has been suggested that a practical solution to low voter turnout is to update our voting system, whereby voters under the age of eighteen become eligible to vote in municipal elections. To effectuate such an update local legislation is needed; an amendment and bill could allow for the age of voting in municipal elections to be lowered to seventeen.

As a result of complaints regarding the draft for the Vietnam War and the age at which states granted the right to vote, states ratified the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution in 1971. This Amendment states that the voting rights of citizens cannot be denied due to age after they reach the age of majority. It is a common misconception that the result of this is to deny the franchise to those under eighteen, but such an interpretation plainly misreads the text, which simply forbids participation in elections from being restricted only to those older than eighteen. In other words, the 26th Amendment sets a floor on voting age, not a ceiling. States are free to mandate a lower voting age in statewide or local elections. In fact, nineteen states currently allow minors to vote in primary elections, provided that they reach majority by the general election, with no constitutional issue.

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.” New York’s election law also provides that no person is qualified to vote unless he or she is eighteen on election day. We can say with some confidence that there are no cases on point or which interpret 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.1

Photo by Rama via CC BY-SA 2.0 FR

It is reasonable to expect that by allowing younger voters to engage civically in local elections these young people will 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 eighteen had higher turnout rates and were more politically engaged than older first-time voters. The experiment was declared “largely positive in all examined aspects.” In addition, the municipal voting age has been lowered in Tacoma Park, Maryland, 2 with no reported negative effects.

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

2 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 & 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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