As she considered her choice of topics for the annual Needham High School Civics Showcase, NHS student Amiya Tess had an epiphany.
“A project like this gets you all riled up,” she said about planning for the showcase, an annual joint effort of the Needham League of Women Voters and the NHS social studies department.
“You want to change something, but you kind of can’t,” said Tess. “Politicians don’t have to listen to us because we don’t vote for them. Until we can vote for them, we can’t actually make a change.”
And that decided it. Working with project partner Wade Ung, the two NHS juniors teamed up to advocate for lowering the voting age in Needham’s municipal elections — but not state and federal — to 16 years old.
Tess and Ung were among 120 members of the NHS junior class who worked on 55 projects advocating positions on a wide variety of topics. These projects were on display Saturday afternoon at Needham Town Hall, and the students played lobbyist for a day with members of the community.
The students were mostly drawn to topics related to policing and gun safety, mental health, climate initiatives, reproductive health and a range of education and child care issues. Almost all the projects involved specific initiatives currently making their way through the Massachusetts Legislature, while a handful were purely local initiatives. Tess and Ung’s project was a hybrid, as it would require action at both the local and state levels.
Tess and Ung made their case for lowering the voting age from the section of the hall where other students were advocating for stricter gun laws — one banning “ghost guns” and guns made by 3D printers, and two others for raising the legal age for firearms possession.
The student proponents noted their issues shared the common thread of having an outsized impact on people their age. They discussed the threats posed by school shootings and cited that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, gun deaths in 2022 surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among children.
Tess and Ung made the case that there is already a legal precedent for considering 16 as an age of emotional maturity — it is the age that teens begin driving, the age that truancy from school is no longer a crime, and the age of sexual consent. They also referenced a study showing that in countries that allowed the youth vote, young people are just as likely to vote as other age demographics, and they take it just as seriously.
“The first step for any change that any of us want to make is getting the right to vote,” Tess said.
Her response to the argument that, as a 16-year old, she lacks the wisdom and real life history required of a registered voter, Tess said, “I have a lived experience of 16 years. That’s a lot of time, even though some people don’t seem to think it is.
“And that doesn’t change the fact that these are things that affect us.”