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 previous efforts failed, Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) proposes another 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.
These include races for mayors, city councillors, school boards and district boards. Rasoul said changing the voting age for state and federal elections would require an amendment to the US Constitution.
“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.
Elijah Lee, a 14-year-old high school student, is among youth activists pushing for the constitutional amendment that would allow him to vote earlier. He believes the change will involve more young people in the political process.
“This is an opportunity for young people to take the mantle and use their voice in a way we’ve never seen in our nation, and I think it’s high time the Commonwealth led the charge,” Lee said . “When we, as a community, begin to prioritize the voice of our young people, we as young people will begin to see the power in our voices.”
In a statement, the Virginia Teen Democrats added, “Youth can make a difference in local elections as Gen-Z did in the midterms.”
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 did not leave the committee in 2019when the GOP was in charge of the house. She also failed in 2021when former Governor Ralph Northam was in office and Democrats controlled the General Assembly.
On Monday, Rasoul said 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. e
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.
Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Rasoul’s proposal.
Shipley wrote on Twitter: “When I was 16 I was a galloping idiot. I had no business anywhere near cars, girls, alcohol, tobacco, sharp objects, fire, electricity, blunt objects, or really anything remotely useful. Choose? Goodness.”
State Senator John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) also expressed concerns about the proposal in an interview Tuesday.
“I think 18 is a reasonable age. Then a person is considered an adult. They can join the military, they can do a lot of different things, but 16- and 17-year-olds are still minors,” Cosgrove said. “I think the idea of having more civics in our classrooms is a better way.”