Frontier Regional School students appeal to lower voting age

Frontier Regional School seventh graders Jimin Ahn, Araceli McCoy and Josie Silva are part of a group of students who have brought forward citizen’s petitions in each of the school district’s four towns seeking to lower the municipal voting age to 16 years old.

Frontier Regional School seventh graders Jimin Ahn, Araceli McCoy and Josie Silva are part of a group of students who have brought forward citizen’s petitions in each of the school district’s four towns seeking to lower the municipal voting age to 16 years old. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE


Staff Writer

Published: 04-25-2024 5:05 PM

Modified: 04-25-2024 6:48 PM

When Sunderland residents head to their Annual Town Meeting on Friday, they’ll vote on the town’s budget, some bylaw changes and a citizen’s petition with a unique twist, as the residents who brought the article forward can’t actually vote on it.

Beginning with Sunderland and then followed by Deerfield on Monday and Conway and Whately in June, residents of the four towns that make up the Frontier Regional School District will be asked the same question: should 16- and 17-year-olds be able to vote in town elections and participate in Town Meeting?

The petition campaign is being spearheaded by a group of Frontier middle schoolers who believe the initiative can help instill a sense of responsibility for civic engagement in the next generation of voters.

“I thought it would be a really cool way to learn more about the community, and as I learned more about it, I realized that it is something I do strongly think should pass,” said Whately resident and Frontier seventh grader Araceli McCoy.

“I’ve always thought about voting and how making these decisions can impact your community,” she added. “I’ve always thought about it as being something I want to do when I’m older and having an opportunity to do it a few years younger, in a smaller way, would be able to prepare me for voting for bigger causes outside of school.”

Araceli is joined by Sunderland resident Josie Silva, Deerfield resident Ellie Wade and Greenfield resident Jimin Ahn, who are also seventh grade students.

“A very small amount of voters in these towns actually vote, like 4% or 5%, and if 16- and 17-year-olds were able to vote, not only would they vote, but also they might bring their parents along because it’s their first time,” Josie said. “It would greatly increase the number of voters and you’d have more opinion from a diverse group of people.”

In 2023, voter turnout was quite low in southern Franklin County, with only 67 residents voting in Whately, 4% of voters participating in Deerfield and 8.1% of Sunderland residents voting. Conway was the outlier, with 18.7% turning out to vote. It should be noted that last year, most races in the four towns were uncontested.

If approved, the petition in each town would then need approval from the Legislature for it to go into effect before high school sophomores, juniors and seniors would be able to participate. These extended voting rights would only be in effect for local elections and voters would still need to be at least 18 years old to participate in state or federal elections.

Other communities in Massachusetts that have filed similar petitions include Wendell, Northampton and Amherst, among several others.

The Frontier students went out into their neighborhoods in each of the four communities to gather the signatures needed to bring the petition to the Annual Town Meeting warrants and are prepared to make their pitch to voters on the floor at each of the four Town Meetings.

Jimin added that having the responsibility to vote and an opportunity to speak at Town Meeting can lead to a more engaged voter base in the future.

“I think having younger people make important decisions in their community early will make them make even better decisions in the future,” she added.

While the youth are leading the charge, they have received guidance from several members of the community, including Sunderland Elementary School Committee Chair Jessica Corwin, who hopes the measure might increase participation in local elections.

“I am doing my statewide political work on the authority of exactly 101 Sunderland voters who checked a box by my name on a ballot in 2022; that’s less than 4% of Sunderland’s registered voters,” Corwin said. “If we had teenagers excited to vote for the first time and they brought along their friends and parents, we could see a lot more democratic participation.”

The petition has support from several Selectboard members in southern Franklin County. The Frontier Regional and three of the Union 38 School Committees — Conway’s School Committee did not have a quorum when the votes were taken — have also passed resolutions in support.

Conway Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor, who is also a member of the Conway School Committee, said he is in favor of the petition and paraphrased 19th-century political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Of Democracy in America,” in which if “you have a problem with your democracy, the solution is always more democracy.”

“Expanding the franchise, expanding the right to vote to children is more democracy,” Kantor said. “We’ll put the theory to the test.”

Kantor said allowing high schoolers to participate in democracy before they graduate can plant the seeds for more active voters later in life.

“This will make them think about one more reason why New England and this area are awesome, because you get to sit down and argue about where your tax dollars go,” he said. “Town Meeting is by and large your town budget, and the budget is the purest expression of a town’s desires.”

In Sunderland, Selectboard Chair Nathaniel Waring signaled his support for the measure at the board’s April 16 meeting.

“It would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to engage civically, which I’m all for,” Waring said, adding that the petition has the “ultimate goal of having the Frontier civics teacher be able to include this in their lessons and planning.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.