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Southborough passes petition to lower town voting age to 17




“The most important thing a 17-year-old can do [is have] the ability to vote in their town elections.”

Residents of Southborough recently approved a citizens petition that would expand the right to vote in municipal elections, as well as allow 17-year-olds to sit in on town meetings, and potentially run for office. Stephanie Zollshan/The Berkshire Eagle via AP

Southborough’s electorate could soon be a whole year younger.

Some 200 of the Worcester suburb’s 10,000 residents, voting on a citizens petition Saturday, overwhelmingly decided to lower the voting age from 18 to 17 for future municipal elections, as well as allow 17-year-olds to sit in on town meetings, and potentially even run for office.

The petition, warrant article 33, was written and presented during the annual Southborough town meeting by 18-year-old James Nichols-Worley, a senior at Southborough’s St. Mark’s School and chair of the Central Massachusetts Young Democrats chapter. Next, it heads to the state legislature to be voted on as a home rule petition.

Arguing that expanding the voting age to 17-year-olds creates better voting habits for young people, engages and incentives community members to stay in Southborough, and provides the unique perspectives of youth in elections, Nichols-Worley convinced an overwhelming majority of the town meeting’s attendees to vote for his petition.


Several high school students and parents, including 17-year-olds who required permission to speak, and 18-year-olds who were only recently allowed into town meetings, spoke during debate over the article, pushing the attendees to pass the measure.

“As the mom and step-mom of five young women, aged 17 through 23, who are all really politically active, we want to be encouraging people to get involved,” one Southborough resident said, also pointing out the lacking attendance at the annual meeting.

Nichols-Worley said that he was motivated to file the petition because as a 17-year-old, he was not allowed to sit in town meetings without the town’s permission. He said the town only permitted registered voters to attend meetings.

“This isn’t civic training wheels,” Nichols-Worley told “There is nothing more important than local government. So this isn’t putting 17-year-olds in the kiddie pool … I think the most important thing a 17-year-old can do [is have] the ability to vote in their town elections.”

He pointed out, that while 17-year-olds were ineligible to vote, they could campaign for candidates, make political donations, and testify before the state legislature.

“At 17, I was so politically involved, but I couldn’t vote for any of the offices in the town, select board, planning board, school committee,” Nichols-Worley said.


He added that a friend of his attempted to join Southborough’s Public Accessibility Committee, a group that focuses on improving public space accessibility, but “they couldn’t because they weren’t old enough.”

With these arguments, the high school senior quickly received the 10 signatures needed to get an article on the warrant. He spent several days door-knocking and posted a letter supporting the petition online. He also met with the town’s Select Board, who supported the petition 4-1.

However, some members of the town’s Advisory Council, who voted against the petition 3-2, felt weary about the potential of letting 17-year-olds on committees.

“Not only would they be able to vote, depending on how the bylaws are written, they would also be able to run for office,” he said. “If you are a registered voter, you can run for the Select Board or any board. That’s one of the reasons that drove our decision. We felt that this was not entirely appropriate, as much as we would like to encourage civic participation.”

The voting rights expansion now heads to Beacon Hill where lawmakers will vote on the policy as a home rule petition. Then, if the petition receives majority support from the state legislature, it will arrive on the desk of Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey.

Massachusetts Rep. Kate Donaghue, who represents Southborough on Beacon Hill, told that she supports the policy and that it is her job to advocate what the people of her district vote for.

However, similar petitions to expand voting rights in Somerville and Cambridge, as well as statewide proposals to lower the voting age have faced difficulty in recent years. But with the Boston City Council passing a recent proposal to lower the voting age to 16, and a new governor, Nichols-Worley is optimistic these measures can finally become law.


“We have new house leadership, a new governor,” Nichols-Worley said. “So I’m pretty confident in this.”

Source: Boston Globe

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