(BOSTON) – At a hearing held Wednesday, June 21st by the Joint Committee on Election Laws, legislators and advocates testified on behalf of An Act relative to youth voter engagement (H.705/S.431), jointly filed by Representatives Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and Jack Patrick Lewis (D-Framingham) alongside Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). The bipartisan legislation would allow seventeen-year-olds who will be eighteen by the general election to vote in the preceding primary, encouraging young people to develop strong voting habits early.
These companion bills are refiles and were supported by dozens of letters by young people from a broad array of communities last session.
This bill was initially introduced to Representative Meschino four years ago by Samantha Bevins, a Hingham resident, now a rising junior at Dartmouth College. Concerned that she would not have a voice in the primary election to select the party nominee for the presidential election, Samantha proposed filing legislation to make her and other voters in this category automatically eligible to vote in the primary. Wednesday’s hearing was the third time that Bevins has testified alongside young people in support of this bill.
Samantha’s research on the legislation revealed that twenty-seven other states and Washington D.C. have enacted this practice. Multiple states expressed support for this practice as statewide ballot measures, including in neighboring Connecticut and Vermont where voters approved the initiative by an average of 72%. The states that have enacted this practice have subsequently seen increases in voter turnout. For example, in Chicago’s 2014 primaries, seventeen-year-olds turned out at the highest rate of every age group younger than forty-eight.
Samantha has been an advocate for the legislation in many ways, from organizing other teenagers with similar passions to present articulate testimony before the Joint Committee to presenting her arguments in a 2020 Boston Globe article. She has also organized testimony from teachers and parents of young people directly affected by this legislation.
“This legislation promotes a model of civic engagement and full enfranchisement that is critical to foster among our young people, who are the future of this country,” said Representative Meschino (D-Hull). “Sam and her peers’ continued engagement in the advocacy process during consecutive legislative sessions demonstrates that these young adults are fully equipped and ready for the opportunity to fully engage in the election process, and I commend them for their groundbreaking efforts.”
“This legislation is very personal to me because I was one of the seventeen-year-olds who was eighteen by the 2020 general election, but who was still 17 for the preceding presidential and congressional primaries,” said college student Samantha Bevins of Hingham, who originally proposed the legislation. “As a result, I did not get the opportunity to vote in the primaries of a critical election year. I want all future generations of first-time voters in Massachusetts to have the same opportunity that first-time voters from twenty-seven other states have to vote in their primaries.”
“It is an honor to sponsor this bipartisan legislation with Rep. Meschino and Senator O’Connor,” said Representative Jack Lewis (D-Framingham). “Twenty-seven other states already permit seventeen-year-olds who will be eighteen by the general election to vote in that year’s primary election. Permitting Massachusetts teens to do the same will only further encourage lifelong habits of voting. While presidential elections generate great turnout and media attention, this legislation would help shine a spotlight on the too-often-skipped primary races as well.”
“It isn’t right to tell this population of new voters that their first election must involve candidates that they had no hand in choosing because they were ineligible to vote in the primary,” said Senator O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “Samantha has continued to be an outstanding advocate for this policy and has demonstrated yet again exactly why this legislation should be reported favorably by the Committee.”
The bill is pending before the Joint Committee on Election Laws, and now awaits further action by the committee.