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Should 17-year-olds be Allowed to Vote?

by Jane Susskind, published

A group of teenagers in Lowell, Massachusetts says yes. As their schools lose funding and programs face budget cuts, this group of teens is pushing for a bill to be passed to allow young voters to get a head start in the political process by voting in municipal elections starting at the age of 17.

Maybe they're onto something, argues Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

"It could be that 18 is quite a bad year to be the first year to be eligible to vote."

At the ripe age of 18, young citizens are freshly transitioning into adulthood; graduating high school, enrolling in college, or starting their lives as adults, whatever that entails.

The group of teens uses Twitter to share updates of campaign progress.

Voting is a civic habit, researchers argue, one that should be developed before adulthood. At the age of 17, however, teenagers are still influenced by their parents to adopt new habits and they are engrossed in their communities. Influencing factors in their lives encourage civic engagement and enforce the habit of community involvement. The youth group "Vote 17 Lowell" argues that community involvement should include voting.

There are arguments both in favor and against lowering the voting age, and this group is not calling for a Constitutional Amendment to change the voting age to 17 just yet. They are petitioning the state Legislature to approve the measure in hopes to test their hypothesis. The results would act as a model for lowering the voting age and allow other states to weigh the positive and negative effects before instating a similar measure.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week,

If ultimately approved, Lowell would become the first city in the country to give under-18 residents the right to vote in a regular municipal election, according to the National Youth Rights Association.

To distinguish the 17-year-old voters from adults, the Massachusetts secretary of state would describe them as "specially registered" minors. Their voting rights would extend to school committee and City Council; issues that directly influence their lives. Regional, state or national elections would still be reserved for legal adults of the age of 18 years or older.

The bill is called "Vote 17" and the teens have created a Facebook and Twitter page to share their progress.

Take a look at their work, and let us know what you think. Should 17-year-olds be allowed to vote in municipal elections?

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