The push to lower the voting age in local elections takes the stage

If 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to drive, work legally and pay taxes, then should they also be able to vote in local elections?

Last summer, Westfield Councilman David Contract and WHS sophomore Yenjay Hu realized they had the same passion, so they put a group together called Vote16NJ.

Their mission, according to Contract, “is to drive 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections so they have a say in how their government runs and how their Board of Education runs.” Hu believes “that allowing 16-year-olds to vote could be vital in achieving a more civically-engaged public, which is essential for the future of the nation.”

Right now, they have six members but are looking to expand their network as much as possible, with hopes of having 500-1,000 members by the end of the year. This way they can go back and show the state legislature all the support that this potential amendment has. “Like any grassroots movement, it’s about support,” said Contract.

Contract has already made some progress with this new amendment and spoke to Senator Nicholas Scutari’s staff in February, President of the State Senate. “He showed great interest in the movement as it also tied into Lauren Willy’s Rule which was passed last summer, that requires civic education at the middle school level starting next academic year,” said Contract.

Scutari believes to get this amendment off the ground they need to as much support as possible. Contract said, “Now that sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are learning about civic engagement, what better complement to that than being able to vote on the local level at 16 and 17 years old?”

The success of this law has already been visible and exercised in other countries around the world as well as in Maryland. Contract said, “In Maryland each municipality is allowed to vote on whether or not they want to opt in to this legislation. Currently, five municipalities allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. Not only this, but the voter turnout is 50 percent more for the 16 and 17-year-olds in the towns that participate in this legislation.”

In order for this constitutional amendment change to happen, it will require both legislative houses to pass legislation and become a ballot initiative for the voters.

Vote 16 NJ has been reaching out to politically involved high school students across the state to spread their message, Democratic and Republican clubs, Model UN and youth advisory groups. They have reached out to every high school principal in the state as well. But, anyone can join regardless of their level of interest in politics. Contract said, “It benefits everyone no matter what your political persuasion is.”

WHS students have also shown passion in the past year showing up at BOE meetings to speak out on various issues. “The decisions the BOE is making affects the students, so why shouldn’t students have a say in that when they are the ones who actually have to face the consequences, good or bad?” said Contract.

For more information go to to sign the petition and join the movement. With an increase in support, New Jersey could become the second state to make this amendment happen.