Virginia lawmakers renew push to lower the voting age in local elections to 16

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A Virginia Democrat wants to lower the voting age for local elections to 16, an amendment to the state’s constitution that voters would ultimately have to approve.

After Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) had pushed failed efforts in the past proposed a constitutional amendment before the 2023 General Assembly session to allow Virginians ages 16 and older to register to vote and cast ballots in local elections.

This includes races for mayor, city council, school boards, county board of supervisors and more, not state elections for general assembly or governor.

“Youth engagement continues to grow,” Del said. Rasoul in a phone interview on Monday. “There is a strong interest in getting more and more young people involved, and what better way to get 16 and 17 year olds involved than to have them participate in the process.”

The midterm election is 2022, according to an analysis of exit poll data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University had the second highest youth voter turnout for half of almost 30 years.

Virginia voters would see the proposed change as a referendum on the 2024 statewide vote at the earliest — but that depends on the support it gets in the General Assembly.

Before the proposal can go to voters, it must be approved by the state legislature two years in a row between an election to the Virginia House of Delegates. The Virginia House and State Senate will be on the ballot in the 2023 General Assembly election.

Rasoul has previously proposed lowering the voting age for municipal elections. It didn’t come from the committee in 2021, when then-Governor Ralph Northam was in office, and Democrats controlled the General Assembly — not even in 2019, when Republicans held a majority in the House of Representatives.

On Monday, Rasoul told 8News he hasn’t had time to gauge other lawmakers’ interest in the renewed effort.

The Virginia state government is split, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats holding a narrow majority in the state Senate. The political make-up of the Assembly has enabled both parties to prevent each other’s proposals from being accepted or even put to a vote.

Legislators in other states and countries have pursued similar efforts Allowing 16-year-olds to vote for years.

While critics have raised concerns about the maturity and found a poll from 2019 Amid widespread opposition to the idea, supporters say lowering the voting age would give younger people the opportunity to have a say in decisions that affect the future.

Vote16USA, a group campaigning to raise the voting age in the US to 16argues that lowering the age would “bolster civic literacy,” that 16- and 17-year-olds “have a stake in the game,” and that research shows they have the ability to “vote responsibly.”

An exit poll by the Edison Research National Election Pool found that young voters — ages 18 to 29 — predominantly favored Democrats in the midterms. This group traditionally votes for the Democrats, but Rasoul said lowering the voting age for local elections would help both parties engage with young supporters.

A spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rasoul’s proposal.

Other state lawmakers may be hesitant about the idea for a variety of reasons, Rasoul told 8News. But he said lowering the voting age would give younger people a voice in discussions that affect their future.

“This is an opportunity for everyone to get involved,” Rasoul said.