August 31, 2023


NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released Let Us Vote: Why 16-and-17-Year-Olds Should Be Allowed to Vote in Local Elections and Beyond, a policy brief arguing that New Jersey municipalities should lower the voting age to 16 for local and school board elections.

Research shows that not only are 16- and -17-year-olds neurologically and socially mature enough to vote responsibly, they are as equally informed about and engaged in political issues as their older counterparts. “Whether it’s gun control, LGBTQIA+ rights or being able to learn about the truth of America’s history of racism and slavery, young people are directly affected by policies determined by elected officials more than ever,” said Micauri Vargas, Associate Counsel of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and primary author of the brief. “These same young people are passionate and concerned and yet they have no voice in deciding the policies that directly affect their lives. We can change that.”

Lowering the voting age to include 16- and 17-year-olds in local and school board elections can foster a more inclusive and representative democracy – and give young people, many of whom already have “adult” responsibilities, a political voice.

It’s also legal. It doesn’t conflict with the New Jersey Constitution, and nothing prevents municipalities from passing local laws regarding voting rights and elections.

The policy brief also argues that allowing young people – who are more diverse than older generations – to participate in democracy will also help combat historically low voter turnout, something that’s plagued non-federal elections in New Jersey.

Annual school board elections in 2023 saw between 3% and 7% voter turnout in participating municipalities. In Newark turnout was a dismal 3%. Meanwhile, annual non-partisan municipal elections had between 4% and-44% voter turnout, while the primary elections had between 4% and 15% voter turnout. 

“Allowing 16-and-17-year-olds to vote in local elections could create a longer trend of higher turnout and bring New Jersey a step closer to building a robust, equitable and representative democracy,” added Vargas. “This is a win-win for our young people and for our democracy overall.”

The Institute will be working with partners across the state – including with the young people of Vote16NJ – to lower the voting age in municipalities across New Jersey.

Read the full policy brief.