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Petition to Let 17-Year-Olds Vote Wins Approval Again

By Beckett W. Sterner

ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

The City of Cambridge has approved a new petition to allow 17-year-olds to vote in local elections.

The city council approved the petition on Feb. 24 with an 8-1 vote. The petition will now be sent to the Committee on Elections of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which will then decide whether or not to pass it on to a general vote.

Council member and state representative Timothy J. Toomey Jr. said that the petition has strong local support, and that when the committee schedules a public hearing, “some of the individual councillors may come to testify” in its favor.

This is the second time that the city council has approved a petition to allow 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. The driving force behind both petitions has been the Campaign for a Democratic Future, a group of students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.

The previous attempt was passed almost a year ago March 25, but was put under a study order by the legislature because it did not address the consequences of allowing the 17-year-olds to vote.

Cambridge youth push for vote

If the state were to approve the home rule petition, the City of Cambridge would become the first municipality in America to allow citizens under 18 to vote, mainly because of the efforts of teenagers in the group Campaign for a Democratic Future.

Noah Chevalier, the only member of the group present throughout the entire process, told the Cambridge Chronicle that “having the youth input in the local process will” benefit everyone.

“The idea is that we [get the vote] here first to show it can work,” he said. “Our [small] group cannot support a statewide effort, but we have inspired groups all over the country.”

The group has been campaigning for several years to get the vote, initially overcoming opposition from city councillors who expressed skepticism about whether the students would have sufficient maturity.

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis said that the first petition that the students had gotten approved by the city council got stuck because “the state legislature had asked practical questions about how it would work.”

Specifically, she said, the legislature requested that the issues be resolved of who would pay for the ballots, whether 17-year-olds would be allowed to run for office, and would they be allowed to nominate others to run for office.

These were “questions [the legislature] felt needed more work,” Davis said, and this was one of the main reasons why the first petition did not make it to a vote.

She said that the students talked to the state representatives, however, and that the new draft of the petition addresses these issues.

Petition faces challenges in state

City Councillor Brian Murphy said that the petition will face “an uphill battle” in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

“The state legislature tends to be pretty conservative on expanding the franchise,” he said. “The other challenge it faces this year is that [the state] is likely to be distracted by the budget crisis.”

Murphy said that although he was unable to testify in favor of the petition last year, he plans on either attending the public hearing this year or sending a letter in support.

Toomey said that as of this past Friday, the petition has not been distributed to the Committee on Elections, and that currently no date has been set for a public hearing on the matter.

In the next months, Toomey said, he and city council will “push this passage [of the petition] over here” in the state legislature.