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Newark City Council gives 16- and 17-year olds right to vote in school board elections

Newark Board of Education

More teenagers in Newark will be getting a voice in government. The city council voted 9-0 to allow 16- and 17-year olds to vote in school board elections, which are held in April.

Johnathon Alston, a teacher at Science Park High School, was one of many who spoke before the vote was taken. He reminded everyone of the critical role young people played a few years ago in returning Newark schools to local control.

“Those were high school students who organized demonstrations that were so big they shut down the highway to the airport,” he said. “They helped us get local control back. If students can help get local control back you have to help them have the vote right now.”

Newark is now the largest municipality in the US to expand voting rights to younger people since 1971, when the voting age was lowered to 18 nationwide.

Rashawn Davis, head of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which battles voter suppression, spoke of the importance of getting young people involved.

“We’re talking about enfranchising thousands of new voters with a pen stroke,” he said. “It’s a powerful step that this body should be proud of. It fundamentally changes the nature and scope of these elections, which have no doubt suffered from abysmal participation in the past.”

Last year, only about 3% of Newark’s registered voters voted in the school board elections.

Councilman Patrick Council said young people in the city are already politically active.

“It’s young people that walk with many of us, that canvass neighborhoods, that knock on doors, that participate in all kind of things,” he said.

Several thousand 16- and 17-year-olds in Newark will now likely be eligible to vote in school board races, enough to change the outcome of those elections.

Janice Kirkel is a lifelong award-winning journalist who has done everything from network newscasts to national and local sports reports to business newscasts to specialized reporting and editing in technical areas of business and finance such as bankruptcy, capital structure changes and reporting on the business of the investment business.