Editorial: Applauding area teens for getting towns to lower voting age

  • Max Carr of Shelburne poses for a photo at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls. 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. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Published: 5/10/2017 2:28:49 PM

Let’s hear it for Ashfield and Shelburne and two of their youngest voters — all of whom have taken a first-in-Massachusetts step to encourage more civic engagement by teenagers. Ashfield and Shelburne voters did that this month by supporting the right of 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections and annual town meetings.

The idea was that young people would become more engaged citizens if they got their feet wet early as local voters — two years before they are allowed to run for office or vote in state and national elections.

Max Carr, an 18-year-old Mohawk Trail Regional High School senior, who plans to major in computer science at the University of Colorado this fall, successfully sold the proposition to Shelburne voters at the annual town meeting, while his friend, 19-year-old Aaron Nelson of Ashfield, convinced his town’s voters, mostly much older than him.

If the Legislature approves, it would be a first in Massachusetts, Carr’s research shows, and Shelburne and Ashfield would be among a small number of communities in the country to give the vote to young teens in local matters.

Carr’s and Nelson’s argument is simple: allow students in high school to vote before they go off to college or careers, with the goal of developing early civic habits that will stick with them in adulthood.

“If you have a civics class and you could actually go to town meetings and see it applied in real life, I think students would be more interested,” Carr told his town meeting. “Lots of people my age didn’t even know there was a town meeting last night. No one even told me I had to register to vote. I just had to figure it out.”

A few days later, Carr’s compatriot Nelson argued at Ashfield Town Hall that “We’re trying to boost civic participation over the long term; forming voting habits early is critically important to encourage participation later in life.”

In fact, he argued getting more young people engaged might actually encourage more older residents to participate.

“Mr. Nelson, congratulations, thank you for your citizenship,” said Town Moderator Stewart Eisenberg following a round of applause after the vote. “Mr. Nelson, you give us hope.”

We second Eisenberg’s sentiment. The moderator knows a thing or two about civic engagement and civil rights, having led Ashfield’s town meetings for years, about as pure a representation of democracy as there is.

And we have to applaud Carr and Nelson, and the older voters who followed their lead, hoping to encourage more engagement in our governance, and not just at the local level. If they are right, and allowing younger teens to participate in democracy fosters a stronger connection to their governments — local, state and national — then we are all better off for it.

And, we would encourage our legislators on Beacon Hill to do their part by ratifying the wishes of Ashfield and Shelburne, and by enabling the state’s other cities and towns to do the same. Learning about democracy in high school civics class is one thing, but getting involved with issues close to home is likely to be a more powerful lesson.


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