Letter: Citizen’s Petition To Expand Voting in Municipal Elections

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

Today, December 20, I was notified by the Town Clerk that my Citizen’s Petition for the March 25 Town Meeting was approved, a Warrant Article that would expand the voting age in Southborough elections to voters aged seventeen. I wanted to write a brief explanation about the proposal – which was briefly mentioned about three hours into tonight’s Select Board meeting – to start a longer, more in-depth series of conversations about how this can be a common-sense victory for Southborough.

Collecting the signatures for the Petition, I spoke both with people I knew very well and neighbors whom I had never spoken to about Town Meeting before. I also spoke with a very respectful gentleman who disagreed with my proposal. This serves as a great reminder, that while there are so many examples of extremism and radicalism in our national news, civility and common sense are the bedrock of our town government. Our form of government means that there’s going to be disagreements, but we all have a common goal as citizens of the Town of Southborough to improve our shared community. I believe this Article will further that goal.

The inspiration for the Petition came from several incredible sources, but the most influential were the honor of attending two Town Meetings as a guest attendee and serving as a volunteer on the St. Mark’s Street Park Working Group, all before turning eighteen myself this past November. After studying similar proposals I came up with the language of the Article, which would direct the Select Board to petition the Legislature to pass a law allowing Southborough residents who would otherwise qualify to vote, if not for their age, vote at seventeen in town elections. (From my understanding of the process, the town will draft the language of the bill to fully implement my language.) While the City of Boston recently proposed lowering the voting age as low as sixteen, I agree with past assessments that seventeen is the most suitable expansion because of how many restrictions are absolved and freedoms granted upon maturing to that age.

I think this proposal is important for our town for three main reasons:

Southborough’s Community. It’s very important to me that the expansion of voting is limited to our town government. We entrust voters who turn eighteen the day before an election to choose our President, Senators, and Governor. In over a dozen states, many voters aged-seventeen can even vote in presidential primaries. Yet a voter who turns eighteen the day after our town elections has no voice in the election of our Select Board or School Committee. Eighteen-year-old students who board in private schools in town can register to vote for seats on the Regional School Committee while seventeen-year-old students who spent their entire educational careers in our public schools cannot. Expanding the vote to seventeen-year-old citizens means that their first official participation in democracy will be in Southborough. Young people, like myself, have so much more to gain from understanding municipal governance and the issues affecting our local community than from the ruckus in D.C. or on Beacon Hill.

Lifelong Citizenship. By giving voters the chance to participate in elections before their lives are uprooted for work or school, we can foster a lifelong habit of democratic citizenship. Voting is a habit. Like any habit, the sooner you start, the stronger it’ll be. Many current Southborough residents grew up in Southborough, moved away, but then moved back and are now a vibrant part of our civic community. By expanding the voting age in town, we not only build a community of citizens strongly engaged in our government, but who will return and continue to furnish our community.

Independent Voices. One argument I heard against the Article, in preparing to submit it, was that younger voters are too dependent on other voices, be it their parents or professors. I could not disagree more, for an especially ironic reason: the person who brought this to my attention was one of my own fathers! Were this true, we might never hear a peep about the issue. Thankfully, the ability of young voters to make independent decisions is more strongly correlated to the expectations afforded them than anything else. I know many civically-engaged voters my age and many more soon-to-be-voters who are extremely excited for the chance to vote. Young voters offer an independent voice and background for our town, and I think we all can have great expectations for them.

Expanding the voting age in Southborough is an incredible opportunity for our town, and I hope to be very involved in discussing the Article further as we approach Town Meeting on Saturday, March 25, 2023. No matter one’s thoughts on the proposal, I hope to hear them! The strength and foundation of our community is our ability to disagree about the best way to improve our town.

Thank You,
James Nichols-Worley
94 Main Street

Below is the exact language of the Petition as presented to the signers.

Citizen’s Petition for Town Meeting Warrant Article

The undersigned registered voters of the Town of Southborough, Massachusetts hereby request that the following warrant article be placed on the next Town Meeting Warrant:

To see if the Town of Southborough will vote to authorize the Select Board to petition the General Court of the Commonwealth pursuant to the Provisions of Clause (1) of Section 8 of Article 2 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and all other applicable laws for a Special Law, substantially in the following form:

AN ACT GRANTING THE TOWN OF SOUTHBOROUGH THE AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE LEGAL VOTING RIGHTS IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS FOR TOWN OF SOUTHBOROUGH RESIDENTS AGED 17 YEARS OLD

Be in enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in the General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same as follows:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 1 of chapter 51 of the General Laws or any other general or special law, rule or regulation to the contrary, any individual aged 17 years old residing in the Town of Southborough, who is ineligible to vote due to age under state law, but who is otherwise eligible to vote under state law, may upon application have their names entered on a list of voters. Such individuals on the list of voters may vote in any election for local offices and local ballot questions in accordance with this Act.

The Town of Southborough is hereby authorized to pass ordinances to implement the purpose of this act subject to all the provisions of the Southborough city charter.

Nothing in this act shall be construed to confer upon local voters the right to vote for any state or federal office or any state or federal ballot questions.

,or do or act anything in relation thereto.”

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Cass Melo
21 days ago

While I believe the voting age should be lowered to 16, I’m happy to see a step in the right direction!

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