Local government

16-year-old voting in effect in Brattleboro

“No taxation with representation,” teen voting advocate argues

By Grace Sherwood, Community News Service

Come next election, if you’re 16 and live in Brattleboro, you’ll get a say in your town elections.

For the second year in a row, Brattleboro residents made the case to legislators that the town’s 16- and 17-year-olds should be able to vote in local elections and run for selectboard. Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill to make that happen last year, and another this year. But this time around the plan has become reality. 

Lawmakers overrode Scott’s veto of H.386 in a special legislative session June 20 in a 110–37 vote. The charter change takes effect immediately.

State Rep. Emilie Kornhesier, D-Brattleboro, lead sponsor of the bill, explained that the idea gained traction after a group of legal adults in town started advocating for getting more locals involved in government. “There was a group of folks in Brattleboro who were really invested in strengthening democracy and participation,” Kornheiser said. They first focused on changes to how town meetings would run, then youth voting — which got the attention of young people. 

According to Kornheiser, most of the groundwork for the charter change was done by youth participants — they canvassed and collected signatures to get the issue on the ballot and pass the charter change locally in 2019 with almost 70% of voters in favor. 

But the charter change still required the approval of the Legislature. Twice legislators passed bills approving the change, but Scott vetoed both of them. During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers in the House overrode the veto, but their colleagues in the Senate didn’t follow suit. This year, supporters had the votes for an override.

Over the past two years, opponents of those bills have had two main claims: First, they argue, 16- and 17-year-olds are impulsive and not yet fully developed, making them unable to make informed decisions that have wide, societal impacts. Second, opponents argue that 16- and 17-year-olds should not be making decisions that impact others severely but have relatively little to no impact on themselves. 

Proponents of the bills argue that it’s simply about democracy — Brattleboro voted for the change, and it only affects Brattleboro. 

In vetoing this past session’s bill, Scott said it was “almost identical in language” to the first bill in 2022. He made the case that the bill would worsen inconsistencies in Vermont law about the legal age of adulthood. “For example, the Legislature has repeatedly raised the age of accountability to reduce the consequences when young adults commit criminal offenses,” he said in his veto letter. “They have argued this approach is justified because these offenders are not mature enough to contemplate the full range of risks and impacts of their actions.” 

Kornhesier disagreed that the bill was basically the same, citing several changes. The charter change as passed by Brattleboro would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to serve on the school board. But because the local board governs more towns than just Brattleboro, legislators struck that part of the measure. “So what we’re doing in Brattleboro wouldn’t impact anyone outside of Brattleboro,” Kornheiser said. 

She said language in the bill was also changed to make it clear that all voters, including the newly added 16- and 17-year-olds, could serve on the selectboard.

Rio Daims, former youth vote campaign coordinator for Brattleboro Common Sense, a nonprofit that pushed for the change, was one of the earliest members of the movement, getting involved at the age of 16 in 2018. 

“One of the biggest selling points for me is the fact that teenagers do work and they do pay taxes,” said Daims. “And we are a country built on the foundation of ‘no taxation without representation.’ When I was 16 I started working, so this felt really close to home in that way.” 

In response to claims that teens would be voting on decisions that do not affect them, Daims said, “There is always going to be people voting on things they aren’t necessarily affected by, and I think it’s really difficult if we were to tell each individual person as they came into their polling location, ‘Okay, you can vote on questions six, nine and 11, but not 12.’ I think an essential part of voting is learning how to have a general awareness on your community issues.”

Daims said the charter change will have positive outcomes for the town. “It’s shown through research that the earlier people start to vote, the more likely they are to continue voting throughout the rest of their lives,” they said. “So if we begin the voting habit at an early age, then people are much more likely to continue voting and remain civilly engaged and active and aware.”  

Brattleboro seems to be the only town in Vermont that allows citizens as young as 16 to vote locally, but it is not the only place where this kind of initiative has gained traction. More than 20 countries, including Scotland, Brazil, Austria and Argentina, allow some form of voting at age  16, according to the National Youth Rights Association. The group says several cities around the U.S. have adopted similar voting laws. 

Nearby, Boston city councilors last year voted to let 16-year-olds vote in municipal elections, though that measure will require approval from state legislators.

Categories: Local government

32 replies »

  1. This is absolutely disgusting. Sixteen year olds make a very minimal contribution to taxes and most do not work at all. These “children” are being politically groomed in school through social emotional learning into the progressive socialist, leftist agenda, aka Social Justice and Equity. Social Justice and Equity are United Nations agendas.

  2. I taught high school for 34 years. Many of these “children” were more mature and knowledgeable than many folks two or three times their age. Adults have an abysmal record for showing up to vote. Perhaps if given an opportunity to do so at an earlier age, voting would become something they would do in later life.

    I suspect the major objection for not allowing 16-17 years old to vote in LOCAL elections is the fear that they will vote differently. We seem to have a phobia in this country of fearing anyone who isn’t exactly like ourselves. .

    • You are incorrect in your assumption about why people do not want 16 year olds voting.
      Children are being politically indoctrinated. They have no skin in the game, no real understanding of the world or politics except for the propaganda pushed by the government run schools. I am more than willing to email you the documentation I have to support my claim. I have invested hundred of hours in research and consolidated everything into one presentation with speaker notes.

    • Sorry, John….but many fears in life are rational and realistic. Fear of driving while intoxicated. Fear of poisonous snakes. Fear of swimming in shark-infested waters. Fear of being a woman and walking alone through a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night – say, downtown Burlington for example…..along with a litany of others.

      We know the major objection to underaged minors not being allowed to vote in LOCAL elections is because unlike your claim, democrats have instead previously insisted that young people’s “brains” remain undeveloped and leave them unable to grasp the consequences of their actions & decisions. In FACT, many of your Vermont legislative cohorts have publicly asserted so in their quest to keep criminal offenders who have not yet reached age TWENTY-FIVE from facing justice & keeping them out of COURT AND PRISON. (SEE: RAISE THE AGE “INITIATIVE” which had to be vetoed by Gov. Scott in ’18.) But children voting is A-OK? Yeah…Gotcha. Wink. Wink.

      We Americans also have real “phobias” about lowering the long-term traditional standards of societal and governmental mores and “phobias” about the PUBLIC school system teaching anti-patriotism, CRT, the promotion of Communism, and the anti-science fantasies teaching that males can transform into females & vice versa, etc.

      Nice try though in claiming that our objections to your party’s deconstruction of the VT Constitution & election protocols based upon an “idea” both created by and voted upon by Vermont’s one-party system without checks & balances is – but of course – “phobic”. But it’s all good, as we maintain that children voting in public elections is altogether clinically insane.

    • John, If you haven’t noticed, things are very different now. I also was a teacher, got out mainly because of the things stated below. Students are not mature; they are depressed, immature, often absent, late, poorly behaved and show disrespect for the adults in the building. The policies that allow these behaviors to continue are crafted and supported by the school board. No suspensions, restorative circles (completely ineffective), paying kids with taxpayer dollars to show up in the summer and complain how bad the teachers are in order to inject “student voice”. All these school board policies create a festering environment where DEI has a forever home and critical thinking is lost. Proficiency in reading and math are at all time lows and it’s NOT because of the horribly mismanaged COVID crisis. It’s what CJ mentions and more. 1 in 20 students might work and be mature enough to vote and that ain’t enough.

  3. This very same legislature just voted to prohibit children from getting married. So they are too young and immature to make life altering decisions that they might have to live with but not too young to make life altering decisions that impact everyone. The legislature is not even trying to hide the fact that they have no actual foundational beliefs. They just want more votes for their side.

  4. US Constitution, Amendment XXVI:
    “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall not be denied OR ABRIDGED (emphasis added) by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

  5. Yes, get these children that have been indoctrinated to all the liberal foolishness,
    promise them the world for a vote ………………… pathetic !!

    Progressive DemocRATs will do anything to stay in power and that includes
    twisting the minds of minors …………………………….

    • Exactly! Manipulating the minds of children to serve a political agenda. These people should be tarred and feathered.

  6. I have a better idea if it’s becaused they pay taxes, stop them from paying taxes, it’s uncontitutional to begin with (for all of us) would allow them to keep their wages so we don’t need to increase the minimum wage and spare them at least early on from the savage theft that is taxation. Maybe then they would see what the government is about when they turn 18 and suddenly get a pay decrease for the same job which would teach them early on about the theft of taxation.

    Plus the town has the full authority and ability to hold a gun to a citizen’s head over the rules/laws that they make. Therefore this 16 year old is given the ability to influence the laws and essentially the ability to hold a gun to someone’s head but isn’t able to own the gun themselves.

    Not only is this wrong, and unconstitutional it’s sick.

  7. Increases “democracy”?? Lol! And all the VT legislators PARROT their mandated talking points including Seth Bongartz in Manchester!!! I’m guessing many have cheat notes just like their hero puppet Joe Biden, when speaking/writing to constituents.

    Having underaged minors voting doesn’t increase Democracy, it increases voting for Democrat candidates, of course. As if Vermont’s fraudulent election system doesn’t already provide these Communists with enough “D” votes to keep their supermajority in the legislature forever anyway. But, the more corrupted, the better.

    “D” is for: DUNCE.

  8. Pick one age for everything. I’ll even compromise at 19, since folks don’t want seniors in high school buying beer for parties. Voting, criminal charges, drinking, getting drafted, whatever. This patchwork stuff is nonsense. Also, we all know they only want this because kids get indoctrinated by leftist teachers in the public schools and they will continue to vote left until they get some life experience & common sense.

    • Agreed. One age. Stick with 18–just no alcohol or tobacco products on high school campuses. But 18–drink, smoke, get a tattoo, enlist, buy a gun, have consensual sex, sign contracts, vote.

  9. nice concept of good intentions but the wrong way to go about it. i will agree with the person who says there are many adults who don’t posses the right acumen, but that doesn’t justify this law (i.e. many adults are bad drivers also).
    if you want to improve democracy and get younger people into the game of governing, why not mandate Civics course to graduate, some states are doing this.
    these young people can get involved in government/politics by other means, student government, volunteering, etc.
    i don’t believe those young people along with adults know how to fact check. as a parent of two children, when they were that 16-17 year age, they created their views, political and other topics by limited credible sources, it was mostly social media.
    i also agree it is a political stunt to grab young people into the progressive/dem party (i.e. forgiving student loans). is there any look back in this law? i would like to see them monitor; how many of these young people actually vote and what party do they register with? gonna bet it’s 95% progressive/dem

  10. So if you can find 16 & 17 year olds that are willing to work. Great. Let them vote, but only the ones that can show they are working. Then let that hand full vote.

  11. That some 16 year olds work and pay taxes is a ridiculous argument. Some kids younger than that pay the “kiddie tax”. Also, we have tons of representation without taxation–those who don’t pay taxes but receive benefits.

    There is a reason why it is said, “If you are not a liberal when you are young you have no heart but if you are not a conservative when you are older you have no brain.” This is a vote grab, pure and simple.

    • Nice paraphrase of Vladimir Putin:
      “Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.”
      from New York Times 20 February 2000; a similar remark was attributed to General Alexander Lebed in St Petersburg Times (Florida) 28 June 1996

      What does this say about the so-called “Progressives,” or especially Sanders? Don’t get me wrong, I like the man as a person, but there are many good people whose politics are backwards at best.

  12. In Vermont, 16-year-olds are allowed to vote and get abortions (without parental consent), but are breaking the law to marry before the age of 18 – even with parental consent?
    It’s obvious to the few common-sense Vermonters who remain here just how idiotic our legislative body has become.

  13. Does voting on local issues include school budgets….. you see where I am going with this right?

  14. Well, for the most part, we are all talking in an echo chamber. How many of us have sent letters to the editor of local newspapers? Letters to the Brattleboro Selectboard? Communication with our elected officials? Or done anything else but comment here?
    See, that’s the problem with conservatives. We don’t go the distance. If you have done something else…. any effort to stand up for any of these mindboggling stupid ideas, have you encouraged, on a mass scale, the rest of us or informed us on what we should do?
    Consider this my call to action. Deluge the newspapers, Selectboards and Legislators with well written, fact-based articles/opinions on the hypocrisy of this and other recent legislative issues. I have sent my letters…. but they don’t get published. Who knows what the elected officials do with it. If we all sent, surely, they would see a pattern and maybe give way to at least publishing a few and possibly reconsider. If we don’t try…. if we don’t stand up and make our voices heard then we have no business b!tching about it.
    What say you all? What have you done?

    • Good points, Pam. I agree with most of what you have to say in both of your comments.

      But it appears that you’re late to this party. I’ve served on a local school board, planning commission, written letters to the editor (some published – many censored), commented to our elected representatives, spoken out publicly at town meeting, and opined here on VDC and True North for years. But your recommendation lacks one crucial component.

      What is it, specifically, that we should be telling everyone?

      It is apparent to me that those who are finally recognizing the impending catastrophe resulting from this democratic socialism simply don’t know how to respond. What do you think they should be saying?

      And no, this isn’t a rhetorical question. I want to know if you can articulate the point you are trying to make – for example, that letting 16-year-olds vote is a bad idea.

      Or, on the other hand, is there another, more basic and profound point for us to consider?

      • I did articulate my point, very succinctly, below, as you pointed out. Is there something more you require?

  15. And to the individuals talking about taxation without representation…. let’s talk about the 65,500 people with second homes in Vermont who pay taxes but are not allowed to vote. Those people pay a lot of money usually to have these homes. Nobody squawks about their rights. We are happy to take their tax money but don’t give a fig about their rights. Either it’s a legitimate principle, taxation without representation, or it’s not. You can’t tout it for one group and ignore the other.
    And let’s focus on the obvious hypocrisy. Minors can’t be held responsible for their egregious and criminal behavior due to incomplete formation of their brains then they absolutely cannot make decisions that affect others either. Period. Simple. Done.

  16. I think 10-year-olds in Brattleboro should have the right to vote, because they pay 7% sales tax on the bicycle they just bought.

    • Hey. If there’s a 10-year-old out there who legitimately earned the money to buy the bike, and pay the sales tax, I’d be more inclined to respect their vote than I would many of the grown-ups I see in Brattleboro.

  17. There are a lot of good people living in Brattleboro. Unfortunately, they are woefully outnumbered by the many truly demented Looney Tunes who wander the streets of that once lovely little town…

  18. Let’s just cut to the chase. The Dems/Libs/Progs, whatever you want to call them, are simply exploiting the tendency of younger people to favor their “causes” and therefore vote for them. Much the same argument can be made about all the privileges that are handed to illegal immigrants, no questions asked. It’s the leftist “feeder system”, and it has been for years.

    In any case, it’s clear that most children, by the time they reach 16 years of age, have been indoctrinated for the better part of 10-12 years by the liberals who make up almost the entirety of the teaching profession. And their unions.

    So the problem is one of perspective. These days, at 16 kids haven’t developed perspective yet. Heck, even when I was in high school in the early 70s, the same applied. It’s only with age, experience, and getting out into the world that one gains perspective, and if we’re lucky enough, wisdom.

    The argument that “Well, they pay taxes too” is the classic technique of “inflated comparison”, or as many put it today, the “Look! Squirrel!!” tactic. And by their own logic, does it then follow that the unemployed shouldn’t be allowed to vote? What about those in long-term care facilities? What about people with low IQs? So whenever I encounter the “inflated comparison” tactic, I tell the person right up front that I understand what they’re doing. If you want to have a debate, let’s stick to the specific topic.

    To me anyway, this 16 year old voting thing is clearly unconstitutional. But who’s going to have the courage (and money) to fight it? You know you’re going to lose until at least the federal court level, but ultimately, this is a Supreme Court issue. Do you have the resources to take on that multi-year slog? I venture a guess that most of us don’t, and therein lies the problem. The average Joe or Jane not only gets treated unequally by the “Injustice System”, they also don’t really have equal access to it if you think about it. We can’t hire the best lawyers. We have to settle for “Joey down the road. You know, Bill and Janet’s kid. Remember, the one that went to law school?”. Yeah, I remember. Joey. He couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “a”. THAT Joey, right?

    I’m a Constitutionalist. If it says you get to vote at 18, then that’s what it should be. But keep in mind, 18 year-olds back in the day carried more responsibility, whether it was providing for their families, taking over the family business, working the land, whatever. I’d make the argument that if anything, we should be raising the legal voting age to at least 21 – and preferably 25.

    But that’s another discussion for another time.

  19. Let me see. Their brains are not fully developed till age 22 to be accountable in a court of law which makes the 16 year old fully aware of the impact of their vote. Oh paying taxes has not been a criteria for voting for more than a week so we can rule that one out. Perhaps using it as means to stuff the ballot box in a particular direction we can safely rule in.
    Once the genie of the bottle is out the boundaries are no longer there. Well nigh impossible to return to the previous position.
    Going to be an interesting ride between the kiddies and non citizens taking over.

  20. Biggest pile of scum suckin Libs, DESPERATE for votes!!! I hope to God, these teens have seen ENOUGH of what you have done to this once great nation and vote straight Republican! Along with the millions of illegals that you want to have voting, thinking they’ll vote for you cuz you are breaking your backs to buy their votes. I hope you ALL enjoy China running out once great nation.