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Justin Strugger and Carrie Saney are members of the Maplewood Youth Advisory Committee and are rising seniors at Columbia High School in the South Orange-Maplewood School District.


As a 16- or 17-year-old living in Maplewood or South Orange, you may drive, work and pay taxes. As a member of the community, you feel directly connected to social activism and political advocacy as many teens and students do. Despite your responsibilities and contributions to the town, you must be 18 years of age to cast your ballot. The topic as to whether 16-year-olds should have the capabilities to vote in life-changing elections has been debated for years. However, the Vote16NJ campaign is working to flip the script and change the lives of many— specifically the lives of youth.

Vote16NJ was an initiative started this year by Westfield Councilman David Contract and high schoolers Yenjay Hu, Anjali Krishnamurti and Sam Altman. Their mission is simple: to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal and school board elections. With such a progressive goal in mind, the project has since grown to 30+ students across more than 20 municipalities throughout New Jersey including: Westfield, Jersey City, Livingston, Somerville, South Orange, Millburn, and now Maplewood are grassroots organizing for a right to vote within their democracy.

In order to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, the organization plans to change the law through a state constitutional amendment and a state referendum ballot measure. After the New Jersey Senate and Assembly approve such an amendment, NJ voters could approve or reject the measure on the ballot. After this change, individual municipalities would be able to pass ordinances to allow 16- & 17-year-old voting guidelines. “We realize this is hard to achieve but we are 100% committed to allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in NJ local elections,” Contract stated. 

Several municipalities across the US have already made this change, as part of the national Vote16USA initiative. Takoma Park, Hyattsville, Greenbelt, and Riverdale Park, Maryland, have all successfully implemented reforms to lower the municipal voting age to 16 and ballot measures through cities like San Francisco have reached 48% popularity among voters. “We want to build on the success of allowing high school students voting in local elections in Maryland where turnout rates are up to double those of adults,” Contract stated.

Furthermore, multiple studies show that 16- and 17-year-olds are objectively developmentally equipped to make long term decisions, like voting. Vote16USA’s white paper explains:

Research also shows that 16- and 17-year-olds have the mental reasoning ability necessary to make informed voting choices. Deciding how to vote relies on “cold cognition,” the decision making process in which a person deliberates alone and unhurried, and draws on logical reasoning abilities. Research shows that cold cognition matures by 16, and does not improve as one gets older. Research on overall reasoning and cognitive development also shows that there is drastic growth in these areas between ages 11 and 16, significant growth then plateaus at age 16 following this primary development phase (2020).

While the function of this initiative is to allow community-driven citizens to vote and make a difference, it also emphasizes civic engagement and encourages future participation in national/state elections once teens turn 18. New Jersey has demonstrated its priority for youth civic engagement by implementing  Laura Wooten’s law, which mandates middle school and funds high school civics education in New Jersey. Civic participation aims to transform the participation of teens in policy, leadership, and democracy that will continue throughout their lives.

Members of the Maplewood Youth Advisory Committee meet with NJ Gov. Phil Murphy.

The Vote16NJ executive board met with a staff member for Nicholas Scutari, NJ Senate President in March. The staff member remarked their interest in the measure, but needs expressed initiative from a larger coalition before legislative consideration. The executive board hopes to reunite with Scutari’s staff in the next few months as the network, connections, and scope of Vote16NJ grows. 

Student Co-Founder Anjali Krishnamurti describes her role in the mission, “I’ve been working to lower the voting age in NJ for a few years, taking initiatives such as connecting with officials and organizations. Interacting with so many politically-passionate young people only reinforces my strong belief for their liberty to representation. If the political system forces the youth to experience striking issues, we deserve a vote to do something about them.” Many other teens and adults across the Garden State agree with such a sentiment about the civil rights of teens. And with numbers, we can create big changes in our political future. 

How can students get involved? First, reach out to local officials via letter, email, or phone call – just to make them aware of this campaign! Students can also sign this change.org petition to show their support of lowering the voting age in municipalities. Gaining support from individual and organizational endorsements is also another way to bring momentum and awareness to this campaign. Being active through your community via organizing and/or supporting events is an additional way for students to be involved in a collaborative and empowering manner.  You can visit vote16nj.org and follow @vote16nj on Instagram to learn more about the initiative. Our contact information, project summary, and resources can be accessed on this one-pager. Whether you are an adult or student in the community, every bit of support for the autonomy of our youth counts!



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