December 21, 2023
NEWARK – Members of the Newark City Council tonight introduced an ordinance lowering the voting age to 16 for Newark’s school board elections, moving it forward to a vote on Jan. 10.
“From the suppression of learning the truth about race and racism, to gun safety and more, our 16- and 17-year-olds have never been more directly affected by school board policies, yet they have no meaningful say in who makes them. They soon will. This historic ordinance will empower more than 7,000 16- and 17-year-olds, 90% of whom are Black and Brown, to speak for themselves at the ballot box, said Ryan Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “This is what democracy looks like, and I am proud, as a resident of this city, to stand with our partners, Mayor Baraka, Council President McIver, Councilman Council and other supporters on the Newark City Council – acting pursuant to its power under the New Jersey Constitution and Title 19 – as we make Newark the first city in New Jersey to take this historic step. We look forward to its passage in time for the 2024 school board elections.”
“Whether it’s gun safety, the environment, racial justice, reproductive health, gender or school curriculum, the stakes are higher than ever for young people. We know they care about these issues because we see them marching in the streets and speaking out,” said Micauri Vargas, Associate Counsel of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We’re glad to see Newark take this important first step in empowering young people to have a real say in a system that directly affects their lives.”
Research shows that 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. Eighteen as a minimum voting age is an arbitrary barrier that restricts the political contribution of young individuals.
Lowering the voting age for school board elections in Newark will enfranchise 7,257 16- and 17-year-old mostly Black and Brown young people, giving them a direct voice in shaping the future of their schools and community.
“I’m very proud to see Newark take the lead on this issue,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “Democracy is stronger when more people participate, and bringing younger people into the fold, who have so much at stake, is a great idea. Our elections will be energized and our school boards will benefit.”
In Newark’s last school board election, a mere 3% turned out to vote.
“This ordinance is good for our young people, good for Newark and good for New Jersey,” said Newark City Council President LaMonica McIver, a sponsor of the ordinance. “I’m grateful to Mayor Baraka and Councilman Council for joining me to champion this important ordinance and look forward to its passage.”
In August, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice 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.
The Council will vote on the ordinance on Jan. 10 at 12:30 p.m.