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The future is now: 16- and 17-year-olds win the right to vote in local elections in a Vermont town

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — A town in Vermont has acted on the idea that young voters offer hope for the future, giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections next week. Those who turn 18 in the November general election will be eligible to vote on Super Tuesday during the state’s presidential primaries.

That means some voters in Brattleboro, population 7,500, could have a hand in choosing major party nominees more than 60 years older than them: Democratic President Joe Biden, 81, and Republican front-runner Donald Trump, 77 .

The city charter change required legislative approval, and Republican Governor Phil Scott rejected the measures twice. Last year, the Democratic-controlled Legislature overrode the governor’s veto, giving more Brattleboro teens the green light to vote and run for Brattleboro’s main governing body and be elected as representatives at an annual town meeting where many local issues are decided.

Lawmakers have failed to give 16- and 17-year-olds the opportunity to serve on the local school board, which was originally part of the measure city residents approved in 2019.

Some communities in Maryland have lowered the voting age for municipal elections to 16. The Newark, New Jersey, City Council approved a measure in January to allow that age group to vote in school board races. Two California cities have lowered the voting age for seats on school boards to 16, but those changes have not gone into effect.

Silas Brubaker, a 17-year-old senior at Brattleboro Union High School, plans to do research before making his voting decisions in local races on Tuesday. He said he is qualified “because I know what’s going on in the world.”

“I’m not too young or too naive to know what’s happening and to know what I want to happen,” Brubaker said. “And when those things conflict, it feels very unfair and wrong for me not to be able to do anything. in an official sense. Like I can go to protests, I can speak my mind, but I can’t do anything in a legal sense and now I can, so that’s exciting.”

Efforts to lower the voting age began years ago. Rio Daims participated in the youth voting campaign in 2018 at the age of 16. Now she is a 22-year-old student studying political communications.

“It’s exciting, but I also really hope that there are other excited teens who are stepping up to get the word out,” she said, “because unless they hear it, they’re not going to assume this is true. a possibility.”

Daims’ father, Kurt Daims, director of Brattleboro Common Sense, served as director of the youth voting campaign starting in 2013, but doesn’t feel “it’s a complete victory” because young voters were excluded from serving on the school board.

Senior Django Grace, who helped organize a voter drive at the high school, said turnout has dropped during the pandemic and civic engagement has plummeted. Involving younger voters in the process can only help.

“By voting, we can apply what we learn in the classroom,” said Grace, who just turned 18 and is running to be a town meeting representative. “It makes it relevant.”

At least 37 teenagers have signed up so far, according to the city manager. Many registered during the voter drive at the school on Feb. 14, with senior Eva Gould also helping to rally.

“This is the future and these are the people who are going to vote in our elections and participate in our elections,” Gould said. “They honestly know a lot more than a lot of people.”