Every election politicians chase the young vote, yet most of the time, youngsters are among the fewest to turn out. In fact, in November’s midterm election young people under 30 cast just 12 percent of the votes.
But a new law in New York is encouraging young people to not only get involved in the election process, but to go after community board positions themselves. The state is among several communities across the country that are giving young people — who may not be old enough to vote — a chance to have a say on neighborhood issues, the Associated Press reports.
The City Council passed Resolution 115 to amend the Public Officers Law and City Charter to lower the age of eligibility to become a full voting member of the council, according to a press release, allowing teenagers as young as 16 and 17 to become a part of the decision-making process on anything from small business permits to city budgets.
“It helps young people get invested in their communities . and I really believe that 16- and 17-year-olds have a lot to contribute,” says state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democratic former community board member who spearheaded the law with Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza.
The new law is not the first of its kind. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer became a community board member in 1977 at the age of 16, and said the experience “has stayed with me my entire career.”
While some critics argue whether teens are responsible enough to give input on major community issues, supporters contend the policy could help prepare young people to become future leaders.
“I have worked with hundreds of interns over the years and have seen first-hand the meaningful role that young people can play in shaping policy and enhancing our neighborhoods,” says Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Allowing young people to become Community Board members would benefit the Boards by adding a youth perspective, diverse skills sets and by increasing the breadth of community representation. It would also promote civic participation among our youth.”
Elsewhere in the country, the Los Angeles school district is planning to implement a non-voting student representative, while San Francisco allows young people from age 12 and up to participate in a youth advisory commission. As the AP points out, both Hillsdale, Mich., and Roland, Iowa, have elected mayors who are 18-years-old.
Still, the opportunity may not be for every teen, but giving minors a voice on issues that shape their neighborhood has the potential to energize the nation’s most important voting bloc.
The new law means teens can begin applying for seats on one of the 59 boards across the city early next year, with terms beginning in April.