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Congress reaches a deal to avoid a partial government shutdown again. Arizona Republicans want to ensure Trump remains on their state ballot and Senate Democrats reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

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Empower Act in MA Extends Voting Rights, Allows for Ranked Voting

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Monday, June 26, 2023   

Legislation dubbed the Empower Act in Massachusetts would allow municipalities to lower the voting age and use ranked choice voting for local elections.

Town councils could vote to extend voting rights to residents as young as 16 without having to submit a petition to the state for home rule.

Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said most 18-year-olds are in transit -- off to school or the military -- making it harder to create a habit of voting.

"We think 16 or 17 is a much better time to get folks involved because they're so plugged in locally," Foster explained.

Foster contended the bill would boost historically low voter turnout for local elections, but opponents countered teenagers are not mature enough to make informed political decisions. When Takoma Park, Maryland, became the first city in the nation to allow 16-year-olds to vote in town elections, the turnout rate for teenagers exceeded any other age group.

Voting-rights advocates said ranked choice voting is a great next step for elections in the Commonwealth, allowing residents to vote based on a candidate's platform versus their electability. Foster emphasized ranked choice voting also expands opportunities for people to run for local office without hurting other members of their party.

"In this formula, they could both run and folks could still pick between them their preference, but they're not really canceling votes out from one another."

Foster added municipalities using ranked choice voting also see a more representative governing body of the voting population, ensuring minority groups have representation on local councils, which he argued is better for democracy.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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