When three students at Bard High School reached out to their Assemblymember, Robert Carroll (D-Windsor Terrace), they didn't expect their idea to go far.
“It all began with a simple question: what can high school students do between election years to really influence policy?” said Eli Frankel, 16, a junior, and the founder of the Youth Progressive Policy Group, a new coalition of high school students dedicated to election reform in New York. “Now, thanks to Assemblymember Carroll, here we are, the youth of New York united behind our fight for a voice in government.”
The teen’s bold idea: Lower the state’s voting age from 18 to 17. Register students to vote in their high school civics classes and empower a new generation of New Yorkers to register, vote and become leaders in their communities.
The high school students met three times with Carroll in his Brooklyn office in February and March. Inspired by the meeting and their ideas, the Assemblymember and the students crafted the bill now known as the Young Voter Act or A6839.
“It’s so important for teenagers to get involved,” said Chris Stauffer, 16, a junior. “Politicians don't listen to young people because we usually don't vote. If we want them to care about our concerns, we need to vote.”
“High school students have legitimate concerns,” said senior Max Shatan, 17. “Most of us attend public schools. And we run headlong into the student loan crisis, which could affect us for decades.”
Eli, Chris and Max hatched their proposed law under the auspices of the Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), a grassroots organization aspiring to engage young people in a dialogue with both local and statewide policy makers that the trio assembled at Bard High School. After meeting with Carroll and his staff, the Young Voter Act (A6839) was born.
“As a kid, I was engaged in local politics,” Assemblymember Carroll said. “But so many of my classmates just didn't care. Many of them never even registered to vote. My bill streamlines this process. When you turn 17, we will put a voter registration form in your hands and hopefully we will get young people voting by not only registering them but by giving them at least 8 class periods of civics classes in high school. If a person starts voting before they turn 25 years old they are much more likely to be an active voter for their entire life than someone who starts voting later in life. Government should be fostering citizenship among young people - I think the more people involved the better and more representative our government will be. Hopefully this bill will help to achieve that.”
Carroll continued: “The easier it is to register, the more people will register. The more people register, the better our democracy works. It’s that simple.”
Aside from lowering the voting age by a year, Carroll’s bill would mandate New York high schools distribute two forms to all students turning 17 that calendar year. The first form is a standard voter registration form. The second form is a “Voter Registration Opt-Out.” Each student has the choice of which form to complete. The forms are then collected by school administrators.
The Young Voter Act also requires all pupils in the ninth grade or higher receive at least eight full class periods of civics education.
“We owe our students an education in how their government works,” Carroll said. “The Young Voter Act will ensure our young people know their rights and know what it means to be an active member of a democracy.”
Currently, the voting age of 18 is the law in all 50 states. New York’s age of franchise has been 18 since the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971. Some states allow persons age 17 to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the date of the general election.
The Young Voter Act would also reduce the voter registration age to 17, allowing New Yorkers to register and vote as early as their seventeenth birthdays.
“Seventeen-year-old New Yorkers contribute to their communities. They hold jobs. They pay taxes. When they commit crimes, they are tried as adults. They should be full participants in our democracy,” Carroll said.
In May, Carroll will welcome his three young constituents to Albany to partake in a lobby day, when they will meet with other lawmakers to gather support for the Act.
Carroll, an attorney with a background in election law, has made opening up New York’s political process one of his major policy goals.
Carroll is the bill’s author and Assembly sponsor. A concurrent resolution, A6840, has been introduced with the Young Voter Act so that the state constitution can be amended to lower the legal voting age to 17. Resolution A6840 has been referred to the New York State Attorney General for a review and will need to be passed by both houses of the legislature and then it will need to be taken up by the legislature again after the next general election and if it is passed again by both houses, a referendum on the issue will be put before the voters of the State of New York. Assemblymember Carroll will be working to pass A6839, 'The Young Voter Act' in the State Assembly.