RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A Virginia Democrat wants to lower the voting age for local elections to 16, a change to the state’s constitution that voters would ultimately need to approve.
After previous efforts failed, Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) is once again proposing a constitutional amendment ahead of the 2023 General Assembly session to allow Virginians 16 and older to register to vote and cast ballots in local elections.
This includes races for mayor, city council, school boards and county boards of supervisors. Rasoul said changing the minimum voting age for state and federal elections would require a change to the U.S. Constitution.
“The level of youth engagement continues to grow,” Del. Rasoul said in a phone interview Monday. “There is a strong interest to get more and more young people involved, and what better way to get 16 and 17-year-olds involved than to let them take part in the process.”
According to an analysis of exit poll data by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, the 2022 midterm elections had the second-highest youth voter turnout for a midterm in nearly 30 years.
Elijah Lee, a 14-year-old high school student, is among the youth activists pushing for the constitutional amendment, which would allow him to cast a ballot earlier. He thinks the change will get more young people engaged with the political process.
“This is a way for young people to take up the mantle and begin using their voices in ways that we have never seen in our nation, and I think that it is high time that the commonwealth leads that charge,” Lee said. “When we begin as a community to prioritize the voice of our young people, we as young people will then begin to see the power in our voices.”
In a statement, Virginia Teen Democrats added, “Youth can make a difference in local elections like Gen-Z made in the midterms.”
At the earliest, Virginia voters would see the proposed amendment as a referendum on the 2024 statewide ballot — but that depends on the support it receives in the General Assembly.
Before the proposal can go to voters, it needs to be approved by the state legislature two years in a row in between an election for the Virginia House of Delegates. The Virginia House and the state Senate will be on the ballot in the 2023 General Assembly elections.
Rasoul has proposed lowering the voting age for local elections before. It didn’t get out of committee in 2019, when the GOP was in charge of the House. It also failed in 2021, when former Gov. Ralph Northam was in office and Democrats controlled the General Assembly.
On Monday, Rasoul said he hasn’t had time to gauge other lawmakers’ interest in the renewed effort.
Virginia’s state government is split, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats having a slim majority in the state Senate. The assembly’s political makeup has allowed both parties to keep proposals from the other from passing or even being voted on.
Lawmakers in other states and countries have pushed similar efforts to allow 16-year-olds to vote for years. e
While critics have raised concerns about maturity and a 2019 poll found widespread opposition to the idea, supporters say lowering the voting age would give younger people a chance to weigh in on decisions impacting the future.
Vote16USA, a group advocating for moving the U.S. voting age to 16, argues that lowering the age would “strengthen civics education,” that 16- and 17-year-olds “have a stake in the game” and that research shows they have the capacity “to vote responsibly.”
An Edison Research National Election Pool exit poll found that young voters — ages 18 to 29 — overwhelmingly favored Democrats in the midterms. This group traditionally votes for Democrats, but Rasoul said lowering the voting age for local elections would help both parties engage with young supporters.
Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Rasoul’s proposal on Monday.
On Twitter, Shipley wrote, “When I was 16 years old, I was galloping moron. I had no business near cars, girls, alcohol, tobacco, sharp objects, fire, electricity, blunt objects, or really anything remotely useful. Voting? Goodness gracious.”
State Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) also raised concerns about the proposal in an interview on Tuesday.
“I think 18 is a reasonable age. That’s when a person is considered an adult. They can join the military, they can do a lot of different things, but 16 and 17-year-olds are still minors,” Cosgrove said. “I think the idea of having more civics education in our classrooms is a better way to go.”