New Jersey’s Biggest City Grants Voting Rights To Minors
A voter arrives at a polling place on March 3, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Minors in New Jersey’s biggest city now have the right to vote in certain elections.

The Newark City Council voted on Wednesday to grant voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds for school board elections. The measure, sponsored by Council President LaMonica McIver, passed unanimously; she declared that minors had the right to representation.

“We support expanding our democracy and giving our young people the right to vote,” said McIver.

The measure declared that 16- and 17-year-olds deserve the right to vote because they may take on certain responsibilities like driving, paying taxes, and working, and civic activities such as political campaign contributions, volunteering in campaigns and at the polls, and attending political rallies.

Following prolonged and divided public remarks over the measure, Councilman Lawrence Crump remarked that minors today were capable of voting because they’re “much more mature, much more advanced” than he and his peers were in their youth.

“I don’t think we should punish children for what we as adults have failed to do, and I think if we don’t support [their right to vote] that’s what we’re doing, we’re punishing them from moving forward because of what we as adults and parents have not done,” said Crump.

Councilman Dupre Kelly said that granting certain voting rights to minors was critical to ensure a healthy democracy, and indicated that granting voting rights in school board elections was just the start.

“If you don’t utilize young people to help you build it, they will be the ones to tear it down,” said Kelly.

Councilwoman Louise Scott-Rountree said that it was Biblical to afford voting rights to minors.

“I think we downplay their wisdom because we think we elders know it all,” said Scott-Rountree.

Only one councilman, Carlos Gonzalez, expressed hesitation for the measure, warning that the next likely step would be policy allowing minors to run for election. Gonzalez also questioned whether the age limit was arbitrary, and if future arguments could be made for lowering the voting age even further.

“I don’t think they have the financial wisdom to handle that responsibility [of a billion-dollar budget],” said Gonzalez. “Where do we stop? I believe that we have to be concerned with the slippery slope of going from 18 to 16 to what?”

Councilman Patrick Council said that struggles with systemic racism and social justices had culminated in the measure. Council said that allowing minors to vote would help mitigate societal issues like gun violence.

Another major issue, the border crisis, was also brought up. Councilman Michael Silva expressed concern that illegal immigrant minors wouldn’t benefit from this new measure.

“My ward is going to be a reflection of a lot of wards the way the country is looking forward, and I think these 16 and 17-year-olds, even though they’re not American citizens, need to have their voices heard as well,” said Silva.

That same day, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy applauded the measure in his State of the State address. Murphy asked that the state legislature pass similar legislation this session to grant minors voting rights for all local school board elections.

“I know, to some, this proposal may sound unconventional. But voting is a lifelong habit. And studies show that, if a person votes in one election they are more likely to turn out in the next election,” said Murphy. “So, encouraging our young neighbors to engage with democracy, is really about encouraging them to become lifelong voters.”

Last week, Murphy signed a bill allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they turned 18 by the time of the general election.


Murphy credited the push for minor voting rights to two young activists: Anjali Krishnamurti, a freshman at Harvard University and former campaign volunteer for Murphy, and Yenjay Hu, a high school senior.

“Honestly, when I see young leaders like Anjali and Yenjay, I cannot help but think: is it any surprise that New Jersey has the best public education system in the country?” said Murphy.

Krishnamurti and Hu co-founded Vote16NJ, a state spinoff of a national campaign, Vote16USA, both of which advocate for lowering the national voting age to 16 in local elections.

Vote16USA is a project of Generation Citizen, a progressive New York-based nonprofit. Among its top funders are the Ford Foundation, Bezos Family Foundation, the Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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