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In the driver’s seat: Student leads push in Shelburne for allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections

  • Max Carr, of Shelburne, at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Max Carr, of Shelburne, at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, May 03, 2017

SHELBURNE — Teenager Max Carr got home around midnight and his mom asked him a question: How did the town meeting go?

The 18-year-old told his mom it went well — his article calling for giving the vote to young teens passed. She was excited for him. He then went to bed because he had a test the next day.

On a school night, the Mohawk Trail Regional High School senior, who plans to major in computer science at the University of Colorado this fall, may have paved the way for future 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in town elections and participate in town meetings. It would be a first in Massachusetts, his research shows, and Shelburne would be among a small number of communities in the country to give the vote to young teens in local matters.

Carr’s goal is simple: allow students in high school to vote before they go off to college, with the goal of developing early civic habits at the local level. He spoke with the high school’s principal, too, to see if it was possible to have a civics class be part of the overall curriculum.

“If you have a civics class and you could actually go to town meetings and go to it and see it applied in real life, I think students would be more interested,” Carr said.

The high-schooler listens to National Public Radio with his dad, his parents vote in elections, but local politics has never been a major part of his civics diet – similar to his peers.

“Lots of people my age didn’t even know there was a town meeting last night,” Carr said. “No one even told me I had to register to vote. I just had to figure it out.”

It was the first time he had ever been to the annual town meeting. He sat through about four hours of discussion before his warrant item came up. Sitting toward the back of the auditorium in Memorial Hall, in a room mostly filled with gray-haired voters, Carr had to fight his nerves in arguing for his article.

“I was practicing the ‘Madame moderator I so move...’ so many times in my head,” Carr said. “I was almost dreading it. I was hoping they would vote ‘no’ to the previous articles so they could tally a vote and delay mine longer.”

When the teenager’s article came up, he stood up, and with his voice fighting not to crack, from the back of the auditorium he projected his motion. Then he maneuvered around the remaining audience members in his row and walked to a microphone in the front, with a stack of papers in his hand.

“Honestly it was way easier than I expected to get it passed,” said Carr, who has been an active participant in his model United Nations team. “I prepared so many counter arguments.”

Instead he faced a slightly shocked and mostly sympathetic crowd who heard what he had to say. He first noted the lack of young faces in the audience and then urged the residents to pass this motion so that they could help build stronger political efficacy among its youngest constituents.

“I looked out and there weren’t that many people there,” Carr said. “They looked really tired and just wanted to go home, so I didn’t feel that bad.”

The measure passed, and it will now be in the hands of the Legislature, which would have to approve for it to take effect. It will potentially go back to the town and Shelburne residents will be able to vote in an election on the right to let this age group vote.

There is precedent for this to succeed. In the two suburbs of Washington, D.C., Takoma Park and Hyattsville, the same age group can vote in local elections.

Carr had followed the lead of his friend Aaron Nelson of Ashfield, who’s now a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Nelson set up a petition in Ashfield for the town to vote on allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to participate in the local elections. They would not be able to run for office at that age, however. The measure will be voted on at the Ashfield annual town meeting Saturday at 10 a.m.

Early start in politics

Ever since backing candidate Bernie Sanders in the presidential election, Carr has found his way into the political scene. He went to rallies for the Democratic candidate, headed to Boston with friends for the Women’s March and bought a bus ticket to D.C. to head to a protest by himself.

“I guess I am involved in a lot of things,” Carr said the day after his article passed. “I don’t see myself as someone being constantly active. I think there’s a lot more that I could do.”

You can reach
Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264