By James Ford, Pix11

NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) — Whether people as young as 16 are mature and informed enough to vote is an issue being debated in New Jersey and some other states, but in the Garden State’s largest city, the debate is over.

Residents 16 and older will now be allowed to vote in school board elections by order of the Newark City Council, which approved the measure unanimously.

The council members’ approval extends voting rights to students at all 14 of the city’s high schools.

Some of the young people there are like Ava McCune. She’s a 14-year-old freshman who is looking forward to voting when she turns 16.

“Being able to make decisions about the things that matter to us, and the things we actually care about,” she said, “is a crucial step for children.”

That kind of interest in civic affairs was a theme among various Newark’s Science Park High School members who spoke with PIX11 News.

Ismail Suarez is a senior. He turned 18 this school year, but said that he’s pleased that classmates of his and people in lower grades will be able to cast ballots.

“It just gives students the opportunity to speak for what they feel is right,” he said.

There’s now a brief but growing list of towns and cities where 16-year-olds can vote for school board. Brattleboro, Vt., which has a population of 12,000, allows it, as does Takoma Park, Md., population 17,500.

Newark, with a population of more than 307,000, is by far the biggest city in the country to adopt the measure into law.

The city council’s vote was on Wednesday. That same day, in his State of the State address, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy clarified that he endorsed the measure and wanted it to go beyond Newark.

“I am also asking the legislature to send to my desk a voting rights bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections,” Murphy said.

The Democratic governor said that he wants the measure to pass this year. Some Republican legislators have objected, but with Democrats controlling the state house, it’s likely to become law.

Some civics advocates, like Paula White, the executive director of JerseyCAN, say that Newark’s new law is good, “But first we need students to have the knowledge in order to participate in this process.”

White said that JerseyCAN wants more civics education with the new voting rights. McCune, the ninth grader, seemed to agree.

“Children being like included in bigger discussions, like [voting for] mayor,” she said, “might be like a big step because you have to teach them what they’re voting for, and what it means.”

Now that New Jersey appears to be on course to lead the nation in having 16- and 17-year-olds vote, the rest of the country may follow, according to Mussab Ali, the executive director of Vote16USA. His organization is focused on expanding voting rights to 16-year-olds nationwide.

“I think the idea of enfranchising younger people to be involved in local elections is the next big thing,” he said.

He added that there are 11 countries where 16-year-olds can vote in national elections.

Also, he pointed out that the national voting age in the U.S. was lowered to 18 from 21 after a young people’s movement led the way in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement leaders were from New Jersey, where 21-years-of-age voting was first challenged.


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