EMPOWER Act aims to lower municipal voting age

by Shiv Sawhney, News Reporter & Eva Zacharakis, News Section Editor
graphic by Dina Kats

The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws introduced the EMPOWER Act on Jan. 22. The act aims to give cities in Massachusetts the option to lower the voting age to 16 for municipal elections.

The EMPOWER Act was created following student advocacy from individuals and groups including Vote 16MA, a branch of March for Our Lives Massachusetts. It is part of a growing movement to lower municipal voting ages in cities across the United States. Takoma Park, MD was the first to lower their municipal voting age in 2013. 

In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution lowered the federal voting age from 21 to 18.

 The EMPOWER Act has been temporarily put on hold due to the coronavirus. 

Though, according to the Patch, roughly one in four registered voters voted in Newton’s 2019 municipal elections, sophomore Andrew Kupovich, president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America Club, said he believes that passing the EMPOWER Act would increase voter turnout in local elections. 

“The EMPOWER Act is really good because it can increase political engagement among teens and overall increase the number of people at the polls in Newton,” he said.

Junior Laila Polk, co-chair of the Newton South High School Democrats of America, said that giving students the ability to vote gives them power.

“It’s really important that teens are able to vote at the municipal level because that’s where you see all this legislation that affects a lot of people directly,” she said. 

Polk said teens are mature enough to vote because they play significant roles in the community.

“Many 16- and 17-year-olds work and have jobs, so at a very basic level they are contributing to our local community in an important way,” Polk said. 

While Kupovich said that the EMPOWER Act could positively impact the nature of municipal elections, he said that teens could be uniquely susceptible to peer pressure. 

“Teens don’t always vote with their brains. Oftentimes they’ll see somebody they know, like, their friend’s mom, who’s campaigning, and will just vote for them by association without looking at their policy positions,” Kupovich said.

Sophomore Neil Chavan, a South senator,  said that he thinks social media would play a larger role in politics if younger teens were granted the vote. “If the voting age is lowered, you’ll probably see a lot more advertisements and political messages on social media, so politicians and political groups can target teens,” he said.

Kupovich said that teens do not participate in local politics, which he sees as a potential setback to allowing teens to vote.

“I think as a voting block 16- and 17-year-olds don’t care that much about municipal politics,”  Kupovich said.

However, junior Noa Nadler said she would be more willing to get involved in local politics if she had the ability to vote. 

“I’d get more involved because I’d want to know who I was voting for,” she said. “The fact that I would get more of a say in something would get me more involved because I would have more power for what decisions politicians make.”

Polk said lowering the voting age would shed light on issues faced by younger generations. 

“By lowering the municipal voting age, we force our local elected politicians and other government members, even if they’re not elected, to be accountable to the youngest generations,” she said.