By Barbara Taormina
Ordinance Committee members with lingering questions and concerns about lowering the voting age to 16 decided to return a proposal for a home rule petition back to the full City Council without a recommendation.
It will now be up to the City Council to decide whether to petition to the state legislature to allow 16- and 17-year-old residents to vote in municipal elections. If the state allows the change, the city will then be required to put Vote16 on the ballot so all residents can weigh in on the proposal.
City Councillors have continually praised members of Malden Rising Leaders (MRL) and the Malden Youth Civics Council for their passion and commitment to lowering the voting age. Members of the MRL Summer Fellowship Program launched the initiative at a public presentation late last summer.
In addition to the support of School Superintendent John Oteri, MLR President Ted Louis-Jacques told committee members that Malden’s statehouse delegation also supports the Vote16 initiative. Still, Ordinance Committee members raised questions about the logistics of voter lists, citizenship and residency status this week.
Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora asked if 16 year olds would be eligible to run for office. “If they can vote, they should have representation,” he said. But Spadafora is far from sold on the idea of Vote16.
Spadafora said there are good reasons to lower the voting age, particularly the promise of increasing voter turnout and citizen engagement. “Hopefully, it starts a trend,” he said. “But what frightens me is you guys are 16, and you should be 16. You shouldn’t have to worry about the pressures of being an adult.”
Spadafora added that many of the issues involved in municipal elections, such as real estate taxes and property questions, don’t affect teens. “I also don’t want to see the high schools become political stomping grounds for us,” he said.
Committee members discussed the problems involved in validating residency for new voters, particularly students who live in other communities and attend Malden schools. And they ruled out extending voting rights to residents who are not U.S. citizens this time around.
Against the advice of City Council President Debbie DeMaria, the Ordinance Committee voted to return the Vote16 proposal to the City Council without a recommendation. DeMaria said it is the job of City Council subcommittees to vet proposals, and she suggested that the Ordinance Committee was doing a disservice to the City Council by failing to offer a recommendation on how to proceed on Vote16.