May 15, 2024

NEWARK – A bill to lower the voting age to 16 in school board elections across New Jersey (S3240) was introduced Monday in the New Jersey Senate, putting New Jersey on the road to being the first state in the nation to enact such a law. An identical bill (A4369) is expected to be introduced in the Assembly this week.

In one of the most diverse states in the country, this legislation is poised to directly impact at least 228,000 young people across the state, many of them Black and Brown students who disproportionately face barriers to success in school and beyond.

“Whether it’s what they learn, discrimination or even how safe they are from gun violence, 16- and 17-year-olds are directly affected by the policies enacted by their School Boards, yet have no say in who makes them,” said Micauri Vargas, Associate Counsel in the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Once this bill becomes law, that will change and these young people will have a voice at the ballot box – a win-win for them and our democracy overall. It is encouraging to see New Jersey take the lead to expand and energize our democracy with the voices of young people.”

Many people under 18 already have “adult” responsibilities such as being the primary caregiver for an ailing family member, managing a part-time job while attending school, running a business or making substantial financial contributions to their households.

Allowing younger people to vote encourages early civic engagement and can foster a lifelong habit of voting.

“We greatly appreciate that the NJ State Legislature is taking on the important issue of lowering the voting age for school board elections to 16. This policy is something that will empower youth for generations to come while strengthening civic engagement and setting the stage for a lifelong dedication to voter participation,” said Anjali Krishanmurti and Yenjay Hu, Executive Directors of Vote16NJ. “The introduction of this bill will amplify the voices of passionate New Jersey youth to discuss issues they have a direct stake in. Just as New Jersey led the fight to enfranchise 18-year-olds just over 50 years ago, we hope that the future passage of this bill will serve as an example for states across the country.”

In Newark this year, the City Council passed an ordinance lowering the voting age to 16 for School Board elections that is expected to go into effect in 2025. Governor Murphy supported that measure and has encouraged the trend to continue.

“I was so proud to be a part of the movement to lower the voting age for School Board elections in Newark. Our advocacy and victory were so rewarding, and I’m excited to see the idea taking hold on the state level,” said Breanna Campbell, a student at Science Park High School in Newark and Gem Project Fellow who testified before the Newark City Council.

“Students deserve a say in who makes our School Board policies because they affect us every day, so seeing this movement grow beyond Newark is so rewarding,” said Nathaniel Esubonteng, also a student at Science Park High School in Newark and Gem Project Fellow who testified before the Newark City Council.

“Newark lit the match and now we are seeing the fire of democracy spread,” added Vargas. “With so much at stake for young people right now, that’s incredibly exciting.”

The Senate bill (S3240) is co-sponsored by Senators Raj Mukherji and Brian Stack. The Assembly bill (A4369) is co-sponsored by Assemblywomen Cleopatra Tucker and Jessica Ramirez.