By Barbara Taormina
Malden’s Vote16 initiative had another good night last week at a public meeting sponsored by the Citizens Engagement Committee.
A small crowd of students and supporters who back the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 for municipal elections came out to share ideas and information on the proposal and the process of getting it passed on the local and state level. Notably absent at the meeting were opponents who feel 16-year-olds lack the knowledge and maturity to cast informed votes.
The push for lowering the voting age began with members of the Malden Rising Leaders (MRL) Fellowship Program who spent last summer researching the idea, which has been embraced in different communities around the country. MRL members gave an expanded and updated presentation of their research, which addressed some of the concerns city officials and others have raised since the proposal was launched.
“Just listen to them, and hear them out,” said MRL President Ted Louis-Jacques as he introduced a team of speakers who presented the core arguments for lowering the voting age.
MRL members spoke about teens being taxpayers who actively contribute to many aspects of community life in Malden. They described the benefits of increasing the voter base, and the positive influence younger voters would have on engaging older residents in local issues and elections. And they highlighted the fact that issues raised in local elections have a direct effect on young people.
MRL members also addressed the concern that 16 year olds are not intellectually mature enough to make rational decisions in a voting booth. While research does show that teens are still developing elements of “hot” cognition, which includes controlling impulses and emotions, studies also show that by 16, they have plenty of “cold” cognition that allows them to process and balance information to make rational choices.
Councillor-at-Large Steve Winslow has been working with the MRL group on the mechanics of getting the proposal through the City Council, which would need to petition the state legislature to change the city charter. Winslow cautioned the group that the initiative involves a lot of steps and would take time, but he praised the work that has already been done. “They didn’t present just an idea, they presented the arguments for it,” he said.
Although Vote16 began with the MRL fellowship program, a coalition of groups supporting the proposal is taking shape. The Malden Youth Civics Council, which began by organizing Malden High School students to participate in a nationwide school protest in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, is joining forces with the rising leaders. The Youth Civics Council has been working to register Malden High School students to vote when they turn 18. They also worked with the Malden Teen Enrichment Center to sponsor a candidate forum especially for teens prior to last month’s election.
“We see so many youth who are engaged,” said Birukti Tsige, who along with fellow Malden High School senior Jenny Chen has been building the Youth Civics Council. “All these clubs and organizations are really engaged, but we never get the chance to vote and make a difference.”
And MRL has also found assistance and allies within City Hall. In addition to support from Mayor Gary Christenson’s office and members of the City Council, the group has also had help from City Solicitor Kate Fallon and Assistant Registrar of Voters Carol Ann Desiderio.