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Voting Age Bill Stuck in State Legislature

By Ricarose Roque

STAFF REPORTER

The bill to lower the voting age to 17 in Cambridge has been placed under a study order by the Massachusetts state legislature after a public hearing in July.

Under the study order, the bill will undergo further analysis by the state election laws committee responsible for matters related to elections and election laws. If passed, this bill will allow 17-year-old residents of Cambridge to vote in City Council and school committee elections, and on local ballot questions.

The bill, sent to the state legislature by Cambridge city council last March as a “home rule petition,” requests that the legislature enact the modified voting policy in the city of Cambridge. If passed, Cambridge will become the first and only region in the United States to allow voters under the age of 18.

“Bills sent to study order does not necessarily put a stop to the bill,” said Matt Irish, chief of staff to Sen. Steven A. Tolman, who represents parts of Cambridge and Boston. “Though once a bill is sent to study, it doesn’t move after that.

“Theoretically, a bill under study can move forward if enough political pressure is placed on the committee doing the study,” Irish said. “However, with the legislature meeting informally now, even if the bill did pass, it can still die if there is objection.”

During the informal sessions of the state legislature, only one objection from an state official is needed from either house to stop the bill if it passes.

During executive sessions, members of a committee can give a bill a favorable report, which moves it along the legislative process, or an unfavorable report, which stops the bill completely. Bills given neither a favorable nor an unfavorble report are sent to study, which, according to Irish, is “a nice way to kill a bill.”

Technical issues slow passage

“This bill sets a precedent that other cities or even states can follow,” said Cary Maloy, legislative director to Sen. Tolman. “I think that’s what some people are afraid of.”

Other technical issues have also been raised concerning the bill.

“If a 17-year-old is given the ability to vote, should they also be given the right to run for office?” Irish asked. “These are some of the reasonable issues that officials want to be clarified before this bill is passed.”

“I think a lot of the opposition has to do with people’s perception of teenagers,” said Janice Lee, adult advisor of the Boston Youth Organizing Project, a group that works to empower youth. “But these students have proven their maturity. I think we forget what it’s like to be a teenager.”

Advocates plan for next session

Supporters of the bill are anticipating the expiration of the bill in December and are expecting to refile the bill for the next formal session in January.

“I don’t see this bill going through before the December filing deadline,” Maloy said. “Though this doesn’t mean that it’s gone for good.”

Members of Campaign for Democratic Future from Rindge and Latin high school in Cambridge, the group that led the campaign to lower the voting age, are continuing the effort and plan to focus on the state level for the next session.

“We’re all still pumped up,” said CDF Co-chairman Adrienne Leslie. “This is an effort that will definitely not deflate.”

CDF has been lobbying for lowering the voting age since October 2000, initially hoping to lower the voting age to 16.

“These students want to see this campaign to the end,” Lee said. “We’ll be entering a new arena this year as we investigate the state level.”

Besides understanding the workings of the state legislature, the students are also seeking to build a larger and more powerful group of young people.

“We’re trying to bring together more students and to spread the effort into other schools,” Lee said.

Officials anticipate new campaign

State and local officials who supported the campaign earlier in the year are looking forward to the continued effort of the students.

“We’re going to work it out again in the next session,” said Timothy Toomey, City Council member and state representative. “We just need a little more time to explain the importance of this bill to other officials.”

In order to refile the bill, the students and other supporters must undergo the whole process again. Local approval must be gained through Cambridge City Council, and then the bill will be sent again to the state legislature.

“Senator Tolman is really interested in the students’ campaign,” Irish said. “If they are willing to continue the effort, he’d definitely continue to support it.”

“The students are really enthused in having a right to vote,” said Toomey. “I think we should give it to them.”