January 10, 2024


NEWARK – The City of Newark today became the first municipality in New Jersey and the second largest city in the country to lower the voting age to 16 for school board elections following a vote by the Newark City Council.

“This is what democracy looks like – right here in Newark, New Jersey,” said Ryan Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “More than 7,000 16- and 17-year-olds, 90% of whom are Black and Brown, can now speak for themselves at the ballot box about who will decide everyday school issues that shape their lives. 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 in this historic moment.”

“Our democracy is stronger when more people, especially young people, are engaged,” said Micauri Vargas, Associate Counsel of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We know that young people care passionately about matters that affect them – whether it’s LGBTQ+ issues, the curriculum surrounding racial history or concerns of gun violence. Today’s vote gives them a voice to express their values and begin the habit of voting at a younger age, making it more likely they’ll continue to do so.”

Lowering the voting age for school board elections in Newark will enfranchise 7,257 16- and 17-year-old mostly Black and Brown people, giving them a direct voice in influencing the future of their schools and community.      “Today, Newark stands as a leader in democracy in New Jersey,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “Today’s vote will energize our youth and our elections, and our school boards and communities will reap the benefits.”

“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.”

“Our democracy is stronger, and our city is better served when our young people have a say in a system that directly impacts their lives, which is more important today than ever,” said Newark City Council Member Patrick O. Council.

In Newark’s last school board election, a mere 3% turned out to vote.

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.

“I have witnessed firsthand the direct impact that school board decisions can have on the daily lives of students,” said Nathaniel Esubonteng, a 16-year-old junior at Science Park High School and a Gem Project fellow. “Our educational experiences are shaped by these policies, and those directly affected – us students – deserve a way to ensure school board candidates who reflect our values and listen to our needs are in office.”

“This will ensure that my voice and the voices of my fellow Newark students are not only acknowledged but also valued in decisions that directly influence the education we receive and our future,” said Breanna Campbell, a 16-year-old junior at Science Park High School and a Gem Project fellow.  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.

With the passage of this ordinance, Newark joins the cities of Oakland and Berkley in California in lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections. Battleboro, Vermont and the municipalities of Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park and Takoma Park in Maryland lowered the voting age to 16 for all local elections.

At his State of the State address this week, Gov. Murphy expressed enthusiastic support for lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections.

“Newark’s lowering of the voting age will instill a sense of civic duty among students that will last for a lifetime,” said Yenjay Hu, Executive Director of Vote16NJ. “This city is sending the message that youth should be engaged with their government, and that we should have a say in the issues that directly impact us. Allowing youth to vote empowers us to improve the community we currently live in and shows us that our voices do matter in shaping the country that we will ultimately inherit.”

“As a politically engaged student, I noticed a sense of maturity and civic responsibility that individuals within my generation needed to assume in the world we grew up in,” said Anjali Krishnamurti, Executive Director of Vote16NJ. “I noticed that young people were the ones who uniquely spearheaded long-term goals of unity, brilliantly employed technology in the modern world as a mechanism for political change, and trailblazed in amplifying critical conversations despite their controversiality. In short, the young people of today are strikingly powerful, passionate, and willing to learn, and their voices have so much more potential with the empowerment of representation and access to the ballot.”