Should 16 Be The “New 18”?
by Laurel Leff | Sep 1, 2011 8:00 am
As students took their quest to lower the voting age to 16 to City Hall, they heard concerns about a slippery slope. What’s next: 15-year-old voters? asked an opponent from the Leauge of Women Voters.
That questions came from Tina Doyle, president of the League of Women Voters of New Haven. She joined with Alderwoman Arlene DePino at a Wednesday night City Hall hearing to oppose an effort to lower the voting age to 16.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of students at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee Wednesday took up a proposal that would place a referendum on the November ballot urging the state to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. After listening to testimony from the students and others, the committee voted to pass the item along to the full Board of Alderman for a vote at its meeting next Tuesday. Of the 30 aldermen, 20 will have to support the measure for the referendum vote to take place.
For Leah Gimbel (pictured) the committee vote signaled that she was finally being heard. “A lot of people came and showed support,” Gimbel, who graduated from high school in the spring, said after the vote. “We had an open floor for a discussion. That’s what we were hoping for.”
Gimbel told the committee she decided to work to lower the voting age when her efforts at educational reform fell on deaf ears. She had petitioned. She had protested. But nothing worked.
Then her constitutional law teacher at Co-op, a Yale law student, decided the class should get involved in real-life advocacy. The teacher, Nicolas Riley, casually tossed out lowering the voting age as one among many causes the students could consider. Gimbel, who had come to believe that her lack of voting power had left her powerless, seized on that idea.
After more class discussion, the New18 organization was born. The student advocacy group would lobby for dropping the state’s voting age to 16, making 16 “the new 18.” (Check out the New18 website.)
They persuaded Youth Committee Chair Alderwoman Bitsie Clark and State Rep. Roland Lemar to sponsor legislation calling for a referendum on the issue.
On Wednesday night, Clark, who represents downtown, was one of five aldermen to support sending the issue to the full Board of Aldermen. The others were: the Hill’s Jacqueline James-Evans, Westville’s Tom Lehtonen, Fair Haven Heights’ Maureen O’Sullivan-Best, and Edgewood’s Marcus Paca.
Democracy being democracy, of course, not everyone supported the measure. Alderwoman Arlene DePino, who represents Morris Cove and is the only Republican on the board, voted against sending the issue to the full board.
“I don’t think 16-year-olds have the maturity level to vote,” she said. “You have got to go up the ladder one rung at a time.”
DePino had earlier objected to a “favorable discharge,” meaning sending the issue to the full board with a favorable recommendation. Paca, who had made the motion, then asked for a “plain discharge,” or sending the issue to the full board without any recommendation. That’s what the committee did.
The New18 campaign still has a long way to go. Even if the aldermen agree next week to place the referendum on the ballot, voters would need to approve it, which they probably won’t, said Riley, pictured, the former Co-op law teacher who is now a voting rights lawyer in Brooklyn. And even if the voters approve the referendum, the ballot measure simply requests that the state enact legislation lowering the voting age—it doesn’t require it.
Based on past performance, the legislature is unlikely to act. “Sixteen- and 17-year-olds were emailing state representatives and being totally ignored,” Riley said. “We suspect it’s because we couldn’t participate in elections.”
Indeed, the response of the state legislators both underlines what the students are fighting for and illustrates how hard it will be to achieve. “If we could go directly to the state legislature, if they would have been more responsive to us, that’s the route we would have gone,” Riley said. “The referendum happens to be the tool that is available to us.”
Still, Wednesday night’s vote was a victory for a simple reason: the students were listened to.
The public hearing began with three current high school students and recent graduate Gimbel testifying. Riley also spoke, as did a current Co-op teacher and Yale law student, Jamil Jivan, and a Northeastern University law student, Daniel Widrew, who is involved with a national youth rights organization.
The students made positive arguments for allowing 16-year-olds to vote and fended off negative ones.
The thrust of their argument was that it’s better to get people in the habit of voting when they’re younger and still living at home.
The students repeated what has become something of a mantra for the campaign: at age 16, students are often taking mandatory civics class but they can’t act on what they’re learning. “It would be like sending a 14-year-old to driving school when they can’t drive until they’re 16,” Carlee Carvako, a Co-op high senior, said.
It would be better to let them vote and get them in the habit of casting a ballot. “Political scientists have said early voters are voters for life,” Carvako pointed out.
One of the political scientists pushing a lower voting age is Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, who happened to have been an intern with the Board of Aldermen in 1988. During his testimony, Riley read a statement from Levine. “Voting is habitual behavior,” Levine wrote. It’s easier to get young people into the habit when they’re living at home with adults who will remind them to vote rather than away at college “living with other people who have never voted before.”
During her testimony, Gimbel pointed out another problem with waiting until 18 to cast a first vote. Gimbel, who’s now 18, said she will be be moving to Illinois to attend the University of Chicago. That means her first vote will take place in a city she barely knows. “I don’t know the political system. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know its problems,” Gimbel told the committee. It’s better to “get grounded in voting” in the community in which you grew up, she said.
Seth Poole, program director of Boys and Girls Club of New Haven, who testified in favor of the initiative, said youth participation in voting was particularly important in New Haven because of the city resources devoted to education.
“Half of the city budget is allocated to young people in the form of education,” Poole said, “It’s only fitting to allow them to have some say.”
The students and their supporters also played defense.
Co-op senior Carvako took exception to the idea that 16- and 17-year-olds were not intelligent enough to vote.
“The last time there was an intelligence test used for voting it was used to discriminate against women and people of color,” Carvako said. She also pointed out that lots of adults, including some running for president this year, have misstated parts of the Constitution.
DePino crystallized the key objection to the proposal. “Why 16?” she asked.
Tina Doyle, president of the League of Women Voters of New Haven, posed the question and the objection in a slightly different way. “Where does it stop? Will 15 be the new 16?” Doyle, pictured, asked.
The students and their supporters turned the question around by asking, in essence: Why should 18 be the voting age?
“Eighteen is not the inflexible legal requirement people think,” Riley said. “It’s not when all legal rights vest.” He pointed out that 16 is the legal age to obtain a driver’s license and to engage in consensual sex. It’s also the age at which youngsters can be tried in adult criminal court for some crimes.
Besides, Connecticut has already lowered the voting age, Riley pointed out. In 2009, the state enacted legislation allowing people who would turn 18 in time for the general election to vote in earlier primary races for that election, even though, Riley said, “participating in a primary election is much more difficult.” General elections receive more media attention and voters don’t have to know as much about individual candidates because they can always use party affiliation as a basis for voting.
The students didn’t provide a direct response to DePino’s main objection—a lack of maturity on the part of most teenagers.
Doyle, who happens to be the Republican Town Committee chair in DePino’s Ward 18, echoed that concern in explaining the League of Women Voters’ opposition to a referendum on the issue. Doyle said she based her assessment on “raising five teenagers plus grandchildren,” and “having been in and around the political process.”
(Riley said New18 had invited the League of Women voters to attend the public hearing, even though their “average age is not our demographic.” He was pleased Doyle attended the hearing, even to object. “It shows the issue has merit,” he said after the meeting.)
“How can you possibly make these decisions when have you three hours of homework?” Doyle asked. “Voting is for people a little further along in their maturity.”
A Wilbur Cross senior, who spoke during the public comment’s period, provided a quick retort. “17-year-olds have homework, clubs, and things to do after school, but adults have jobs and kids to take care of,” he said. “They have more burdens than us and they can still vote.”
Another supporter, Darryl Brackeen Jr., pictured, who is running for alderman in Westville’s Ward 26, noted that when he was a student at Hillhouse High School: “There were students who had to take care of children of their own. There were students who had to be heads of households because their parents were working or couldn’t take care of them or their siblings.”
The students’ demeanor also provided an indirect response to the charge that 16-year-old aren’t mature enough to vote. They had a seriousness and sense of purpose that impressed some committee members.
“You have a group of young people here who are completely dedicated to being part of the political process,” Paca said. “Their efforts are not going unnoticed. They’re doing a real service by getting discussion going on a state level.”
That doesn’t necessarily translate into aldermanic votes next week. Youth Committee Chair Clark said Board President Carl Goldfield is likely to oppose the measure not because he would necessarily oppose the idea of lowering the voting age, but because he hates referendums.
Yet, Riley said New18 has a shot at getting the referendum approved and at getting an actual law passed. And there are efforts underway in other states, most notably Massachusetts, to lower the voting age.
“When you engage the arguments on their merits, people change their minds,” Riley said.“They had just never considered the possibility of 16-year-olds voting before.”
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This is absurd. Why are we wasting Alder Committee time on this?
16 year old’s cannot even get a full driver’s license anymore until they are 18 years old and with good reason. There is a great amount of maturing that occurs between those two years.
Although some 16 year old children may feel that they should be part of the process the reality is that most 16 year old’s are not paying bills, do not own homes, do not pay a significant enough tax, etc…to be contributing to a vote that doesn’t directly impact them.
Lots of good points brought up. Doubt anything will change, but there are a lot of good points. Ages are more arbitrary than anything else. There is no switch than determines maturity level, driving capability, intelligence, and so on. However, people become so entrenched in they way things are that it’s really hard to argue for change when it’s not an immediate need. We’ll see where this goes.
To use the example of 16 year olds being unmarried parents of children that they cannot possibly care for on their own is an advertisement to RAISE the voting age to 21. Good point, Darryl.
I initially thought this was a bad idea when first reported, but their arguments convinced me it should be done. The arguments against it run parallel to the arguments against letting women vote. One of the most interesting things that came about from women voting is that it had no real impact on election results. Conservatives were scared witless women would overwhelmingly vote liberal (Republican at the time, as hard as that is to believe). Turns out that women are just as stupid as men when it comes to voting. If we want a meaningful criteria we should have an IQ test. Anyone with less than a 100 IQ should have no vote. But this is all meaningless as our elections are as rigged as those of the old Soviet Union.
Interesting idea but I cant support it.
Point 1 We are not talking about denying the ability to vote to any particular race, creed or gender. This is not discriminatory as all legal residents under 18 years old can not vote.
Point 2 When the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 there was what I consider a valid reason - we were asking our fighting men (and support women, we were in Vietnam at the time) to give their life for their country but not have the ability to vote on the leadership making these decisions.
In addition at 18 years of age the average person has graduated or will graduate shortly from High School - a place where they are supposedly gaining the knowledge to move from an adolescent to an adult. At the time when the voting age was lowered there were many people who after graduating High School did not go to college but entered the workforce immediately.
This maturity (fighting in a war or going to work) that the average 18 year old had to take on gave them the moral right to vote. I do not feel that the average 16 year old today meets that same criteria.
Please note that this in no way reflects the people that gave testimony and are trying to push this through. I am speaking in general terms.
Is there talk of this any where else ? is this a nationwide thing ? and why do i have a feeling that some “social justice” group is behind this. There are probably many 16 year olds who can make a mature decision, the bulk can not, as well as being easily lured to one candidate. suppose the teachers union is supporting a certain candidate, are we suppose to think that that wont filter down to the students? why dont these kids do a mock vote at their school instead ? or volunteer for a campaign of their choice.
Im starting to think our board of alderman will listen to any bad idea and take it seriously. good thing this will be forgotten about.
My opinion is from raising six kids and many foster kids in my years. The ages from 16-18 is such a transition, that’s why they’re so emotional all the time. At 18, they really do start seriously looking to the future and that is why, in my opinion you should not let this happen. Let kids be kids, 16 is not too far away from 18, before they know it they can vote for many many years to come.
First we complain that young people are not civic minded enough (and that young adults do not vote enough). Then these civic minded kids come along and say they should like to be able to vote. Oh, no you don’t, you are too young and immature.
Seeing the candidates adults keep electing to office, I don’t think we are doing so great a job of it that we dare not let 16 and 17 year olds in. Let them in on democracy. If people develop the voting habit early, we might have more people voting in the years to come.
I know it not going to happen, but I still like the idea.
Reduce the Draft Age!
(I’ll buy the keg.)
Check our Facebook page for information on more impromptu meet-ups in the local area.
Psst…..Think Lighthouse Park! :)
PS In these kids life times, the Supreme Court has sanctioned the death penalty for crimes committed by minors.
The really interesting thing about this debate is that the people against lowering the voting age have not been able to make a convincing argument why it should not be done. All I see are hackneyed platitudes about teenagers not being “mature” enough or being too emotional. The strawman argument of “Where does it stop? Will 15 be the new 16?” fails even to address the issue. I don’t see a single successful rebuttal in their remarks either. If I were scoring this as a debate it would go to the students in a landslide.
LET’S BE RATIONAL & KEEP THE VOTING AGE AT 18
It is commendable to see these students taking an active interest and role in government and politics, and in being civically engaged; they are to be encouraged. The ages of 16 to 18 offer a time for teens to learn about how government works and to become familiar with the issues at hand and how they can be practically analyzed.
The voting age should remain at 18 because not enough 16 years old have the level of mental and emotional maturity and the social responsibility required to make truly informed decisions in an election. While that is also true of many adults, the fact is we must afford adults the right to vote.
We should also be concerned about how much easier it will be for exploitative politicians to manipulate 16-year-olds. We have enough corruption and exploitation in politics as it is. We should keep the voting age at 18. Provide civic internships for teens starting at 16 so that they can learn how politics work.
These teens and 16-year-olds across the country might be the ones to provide the groundwork for effective changes in our political system. We need to embrace them and provide them with opportunities to learn, and platforms to share their ideas; however, we need to be rational and practical. Voting should remain at age 18.
It is about time the voting age is being considered to be lowered. I am 17, and have been involved with politics for many years. Many young people are more connected to the political world than most adults, and often times want their voices to be heard. To answer the idea of some are too immature to vote, those kids do not have to vote. Registering to vote is an option, an option should be open to mature people all over this great state and nation.
Can someone please define the specific behavioral and emotional indicators that point to the ambiguous threshold of maturity that is supposedly crossed at age 18? I’d be willing to wager that if we were to look more critically at voting behavior in allegedly mature adults, we’d see some pretty irrational, intuitive decision making. If this is truly the reason why we’re resisting lowering the voting age, perhaps we should reconsider the concept of a fixed voting age and instead look at some sort of instrument that would indicate when an individual ‘mature” enough to vote?
I think it’s absurd to refuse 16-year-old people the opportunity to vote. Someone here made the argument that inasmuch as the young people may not have jobs or own property the political process doesn’t affect them. I say nothing could be further from the truth. With the amount of time that students are compelled to participate in government run schooling and the way that environmental, foreign relations, and economic policies are going to be affecting everyone for decades to come, they have a very huge interest in what the government does. The national debt alone should be sufficient cause to give the people it will affect most a chance to vote.
Well, I will concede that the AMA will not support a diagnosis of anti social personality disorder (psychopath) until age 18 because continued brain development may cause a younger person to develop empathy. As a former high school teacher, I can say many young people are very immature. That said, I think Lifelong NH Resident and Forward Looking have really nailed it on the head. High school students are learning to be journeyman citizens, so why not let the apprentices use some of the tools? They know more about public schools than most because their knowledge is first hand. With their whole lives ahead of them, they have great cause to concerned with issues like the national dept and the environment.
Of course, we could always to back to the original template: white male property owners over the age of 21. I don’t think that is a good idea, but it does favor me.
Maybe the State could issue a Political Learner’s Permit for under-age voters.
Of course, first one would have to pay a fee, and pass a test.
posted by: Cheryl Dunson on September 7, 2011 12:10pm
We read with interest in the Yale Daily News and the New Haven Independent about the August 31 meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee concerning the New18 organization and their desire for a non-binding referendum in the city on lowering the voting age in the state. On behalf of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, we would like to clarify an important point, that is, that the League of Women Voters does not have a position on lowering the voting age.
The League of Women Voters of Connecticut has over 1,800 members in 28 local chapters, including LWV New Haven. Tina Doyle has been an active member and a local League leader for many years. We deeply respect her experience and opinions as an individual and hope her testimony was of service to the aldermen in their deliberations.
League practice is to study issues and hold a membership vote on a proposed statement of position before we speak in support or opposition to a proposal.
We applaud these younger citizens for their thoughtful work and organization in bringing this issue before the Board of Alderman. Two of our local affiliates, the LWV of New Haven and the LWV of Hamden-North Haven, would be happy to organize an event that could present all sides of the issue. Although we do not have a statewide position on the issue, these local Leagues stand ready and willing to host an event to educate others about this proposal.