PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote? Three of the four congressmen who represent Southeastern New England say yes.
Democratic Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts all voted last week in favor of a measure to lower the voting age by two years.
The region’s one dissenter was Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating, who voted no. He was in the majority, as 108 Democrats and every Republican but one joined him in opposing a voting age of 16. The idea did, however, win the backing of a majority of House Democrats.
The amendment was offered by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., during the debate over H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act, a sweeping bill put together by House Democrats to change elections and campaign-finance laws. Its provisions include making Election Day a federal holiday, requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns and expanding public financing of campaigns.
The last time the U.S. voting age was changed was in the early 1970s, when it was lowered to 18.
In a statement, Cicilline cited the activism of students who experienced the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as an example of how “young people today are able to offer valuable insight on some of the most pressing issues facing our country.” He also said modern technology allows young people “to access information and understand issues” more thoroughly than in years past.
“And finally, the research shows that young voters who participate early are more likely to remain engaged throughout their lives — if someone is able to vote while they’re still at home with parents who also vote, as opposed to trying to fit it in when they’re also starting a job or beginning college, they’re more likely to participate, and to remain active,” Cicilline said.
Langevin, a former Rhode Island secretary of state, said in his view the idea “is about getting youth involved in their government.”
“If they are old enough to drive, work and pay federal taxes, then it is not too soon to start a life of civic engagement,” Langevin said.
Kennedy said, “At a time when our government has failed to confront everything from climate change to gun violence to student loan debt to immigration reform to civil rights, we should be empowering the voices of the generation that will bear the brunt of our inaction, not trying to silence them or dismiss their cries for change.”
So why did Keating vote no? “Congressman Keating believes that because the right to vote is essential to our democracy, it carries with it enormous responsibility,” said his spokesperson, Lauren Amendolara McDermott.
“As such, he felt that any actions that would effectuate a change of such magnitude should be subject to in-depth exploration with substantive hearings and inquiry, rather than a fast track through the House via a floor amendment and limited opportunity for a full debate,” she continued.
All four local congressmen, including Keating, supported the For the People Act on final passage, and McDermott noted that the bill includes automatic voter registration at age 16.
The measure now moves to the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has denounced the bill as “a power grab” by Democrats to help them win more elections, which they strongly dispute.