🗳 Voting age lowered to 16 in NJ city

🗳 Change impacts school board elections

🗳 Advocates say age 18 is an “arbitrary barrier”

NEWARK - Advocacy groups and local leaders have celebrated a milestone in the state’s largest city, as Newark has become the first municipality in New Jersey to lower the voting age to 16 for school board elections.

The city council vote on Wednesday made Newark the second largest city in the country to adopt the lower age limit — joining Oakland and Berkeley in California.

Based on the new age restriction, 7,257 16- and 17-year-old Newark residents would now be eligible to take part in school board elections happening this year.

Newark’s last school board election, in April, saw just a 3% voter turnout.

New Jersey Institute for Social Justice has called 18 as a minimum voting age “an arbitrary barrier that restricts the political contribution of young individuals.”

In campaigning for the change, advocates have said that research shows 16- and 17-year-olds are not only neurologically and socially mature enough to vote responsibly — but are also well-informed and engaged in political issues.

The Newark Board of Education is made up of nine members elected to three-year terms.

There were currently two empty spots ahead of the next election on April 16.

There are five communities, nationwide, that have lowered the age for all local elections to 16 — Battleboro, Vermont and four municipalities in Maryland — Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park and Takoma Park.

'Newark as leader in democracy' reaction

“Today, Newark stands as a leader in democracy in New Jersey,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in public remarks amid the Newark City Council vote.

He continued, “Today’s vote will energize our youth and our elections, and our school boards and communities will reap the benefits.”

Newark City Council President LaMonica McIver, a sponsor of the ordinance, also applauded its passage.

“This ordinance is good for our young people, good for Newark and good for New Jersey,” McIver said.

New Jersey Institute for Social Justice President & CEO Ryan Haygood celebrated the vote in written comments and on his social media accounts.

“More than 7,000 16- and 17-year-olds, 90% of whom are Black and Brown, can now speak for themselves at the ballot box about who will decide everyday school issues that shape their lives,” Haygood said, adding he was proud to have played a role as an advocate.

“Young people deserve to engage with decisions that shape their education,” ACLU New Jersey said ahead of the vote passing, later also applauding it.

At his State of the State address a day earlier, Gov. Phil Murphy had also voiced support for lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections around New Jersey.

Vote16NJ Co-Founder and current Harvard University student, Anjali Krishnamurti added to those applauding the ordinance.

“The young people of today are strikingly powerful, passionate, and willing to learn, and their voices have so much more potential with the empowerment of representation and access to the ballot," Krishnamurti said.

While the vote was unanimous, there were concerns voiced by council members about addressing the voting rights of immigrants in the city, and about making sure to energize teens to use their newfound right to vote, as
reported by ChalkBeat.

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