This November, Boulder citizens may get to vote on who gets to vote.
Here, as in nearly every other town in America, the voting age for municipal elections is 18 — the same as the federal voting age.
But members of the city’s Youth Opportunities Advisory Board believe the local threshold should be lowered, and they may find sympathetic ears on the City Council.
They offer a series of arguments for why kids aged 16 and 17 deserve a vote, and chief among them is the case that allowing them that privilege will help instill the habit of voting that so many young people don’t pick up.
American voters under 25 turned out for the 2012 presidential election at a 38 percent rate, and just a quarter of them vote in congressional races. Meanwhile, people who vote the first time they’re eligible are about 50 percent more likely to vote the next time around.
“When you’re 16, you’re more stable,” said Leo Greer, a senior at Boulder High School. “You’re in the middle of high school, still living with your parents. We believe it’s a lot easier to get those people registered.
“Even if it’s just local elections, they’ll be in the habit to vote. We’re hoping we can raise the turnout significantly.”
Boulder doesn’t have the same turnout problems much of the rest of the country does, with 89 percent of registered voters casting ballots in the last election. But young people vote at lower rates here and are generally absent in local government settings, save for the youth advisory board and the occasional under-18 speakers at public hearings.
There’s some, but not much, precedent for lowering the local voting age. Takoma Park, Md. — a Washington, D.C., suburb very much aligned politically with Boulder — was the first to take this up, lowering its minimum to 16 in 2013. Hyattsville, Md., followed in 2015. Berkeley, Calif, will start allowing 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections only in 2018.
Last year, San Francisco voters very narrowly defeated a measure that would have given the movement its first big-city win, but San Francisco and now D.C. may well take up the question in the near future.
Greer and three colleagues from the 14-member youth advisory board — Eva Martinez, Cole Schoenberg and Rayne Macias — will make their case to the city’s Human Relations Commission on Monday.
“We’re really well educated here in Boulder,” Martinez said. “I feel prepared to vote because I’ve had a lot of civic classes to tell me what’s happened in the past and how my voting can change things.”
Emilia Pollauf, the Human Relations Commission chair, said the board is “equally excited” about the effort.
“I believe that we’ll be united in making a recommendation to the City Council that this be considered. Youth in our community are a lot more civic-minded than people give them credit for,” Pollauf said.
The council has the power to put this question to voters as soon as November, but it’s not yet discussed as a group the prospect of doing so.
Recently, though, council members Mary Young and Bob Yates held a dinner with the youth board, which includes students from Boulder, Fairview and New Vista high schools.
Yates said that if the students bring their campaign to the council, he would “definitely see us discussing it.”
“We’d have to have a little bit of community engagement and probably a public hearing or two, which would be a good way to test the support,” Yates said, “but if lots of people come in and are supportive, I can see the council putting this on the ballot.”
Added Yates, “By the time they’re 16, they really are young adults with good discernment and understanding. So I’m not troubled by the thought that 16- and 17-year-olds have the maturity and the reflectiveness to vote.”
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