As students took their quest to lower the voting age to 16 to City Hall, they heard concerns about a slippery slope. What’s next: 15-year-old voters? asked an opponent from the Leauge of Women Voters.
That questions came from Tina Doyle, president of the League of Women Voters of New Haven. She joined with Alderwoman Arlene DePino at a Wednesday night City Hall hearing to oppose an effort to lower the voting age to 16.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of students at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Services Committee Wednesday took up a proposal that would place a referendum on the November ballot urging the state to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. After listening to testimony from the students and others, the committee voted to pass the item along to the full Board of Alderman for a vote at its meeting next Tuesday. Of the 30 aldermen, 20 will have to support the measure for the referendum vote to take place.
Democracy being democracy, of course, not everyone supported the measure. Alderwoman Arlene DePino, who represents Morris Cove and is the only Republican on the board, voted against sending the issue to the full board.
“I don’t think 16-year-olds have the maturity level to vote,” she said. “You have got to go up the ladder one rung at a time.”
Seth Poole, program director of Boys and Girls Club of New Haven, who testified in favor of the initiative, said youth participation in voting was particularly important in New Haven because of the city resources devoted to education.
“Half of the city budget is allocated to young people in the form of education,” Poole said, “It’s only fitting to allow them to have some say.”
The students and their supporters also played defense.
Co-op senior Carvako took exception to the idea that 16- and 17-year-olds were not intelligent enough to vote.
“The last time there was an intelligence test used for voting it was used to discriminate against women and people of color,” Carvako said. She also pointed out that lots of adults, including some running for president this year, have misstated parts of the Constitution.
“How can you possibly make these decisions when have you three hours of homework?” Doyle asked. “Voting is for people a little further along in their maturity.”
Another supporter, Darryl Brackeen Jr., pictured, who is running for alderman in Westville’s Ward 26, noted that when he was a student at Hillhouse High School: “There were students who had to take care of children of their own. There were students who had to be heads of households because their parents were working or couldn’t take care of them or their siblings.”
The students’ demeanor also provided an indirect response to the charge that 16-year-old aren’t mature enough to vote. They had a seriousness and sense of purpose that impressed some committee members.
“You have a group of young people here who are completely dedicated to being part of the political process,” Paca said. “Their efforts are not going unnoticed. They’re doing a real service by getting discussion going on a state level.”
So check that: kids in New Haven are so smart and talented that they have organized a youth movement to be allowed to vote, learned about the law about voting age and how a state referendum works, and gotten aldermen and a state senator to sponsor legislation in their favor…and in response they’re being told they’re not mature enough? By the League of Women Voters, no less? This entire thing is incredibly mature and impressive, and being planned and led by young people.
Also, this woman is so out of touch if she thinks the biggest burden these kids all have going on is doing 3 hours of homework. And props to that young woman tellin it: it’s been done before that voting rights were based on supposed maturity and intelligence.
I think the problem is, not all 16-year-olds have the maturity and worldliness to vote. For every high schooler invested in the political life of the country, there’s several who parrot whatever their parents say, or are barely interested in all. I’ve encountered both ends of the spectrum, even in college. It would be great if there was some sort of ultra-specific legislation allowing passionate, informed teenagers to vote, but that would be “unfair” according to the definition of American democracy.
On the other hand, if we just did the Athens thing and only allowed people who could have reasonable, articulate debates to participate, I would never have to hear about Palin or Bachmann again.