Town May Lower Voting Age To 16

Fourteen-year-old Caleb Vogel looks forward to driving in two years, but right now he has a loftier goal: casting a vote.

The City Council in this liberal enclave is considering lowering the voting age in local elections to 16, making it the first community in the state - and possibly the country - to do so.

"Kids should definitely have the right to say what's going to happen in their future," said Vogel, a freshman, from beneath a backpack full of school books.

In a conversation outside Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School Thursday, Vogel tossed around names of local politicians like classmates, and waxed political on California and its 54 electoral votes.

Sophomore Peter Killackey joined the debate.

"I think we're really going to pave the way for a lot of other cities around the state and country," said Killackey, 15.

Cambridge would be the first community in the state to lower its voting age to 16, according to the Secretary of State's office. Nationwide, officials at the Federal Elections Commission said they knew of no other communities that allow 16-year-olds to vote.

City Councilor Jim Braude said the proposal has a "decent chance" of passing, even though a similar measure failed last year.

"Those things you start young - whether it's smoking a cigarette or casting a vote - you tend to end up doing for the rest of your life," Braude said.

The Constitution set the voting age at 21, but a movement to change that began in the 1960s, as men old enough to be drafted but too young to vote were sent off to fight in Vietnam.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 set the minimum voting age at 18, and the 26th Amendment made it a Constitutional right in 1971.

Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, a Washington research institution, scoffed at the Cambridge proposal.

"I think it's a terrible idea," Gans said. "I don't think 16-year-olds know what they're doing."

Gans said the low participation of 18- to 25-year-olds - typically the age group least likely to vote - shows that lowering the voting age would only increase electoral apathy.

Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio, who introduced last year's proposal, said the age should be lowered at least to 17 so children can be encouraged to begin voting while still in school.

"If we can get them into voting before they leave high school, I think we can get them engaged," said Galluccio.

For the proposal, which would apply only to local elections, to take effect, it must be approved by the City Council and state Legislature.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state's top election official, said the state constitution would also have to be changed, because it requires voters for state offices to be at least 18.