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A bill seeking to reduce the voting age for school board elections stalls in committee

Delaware Legislative Hall
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall

With school board elections just days away, a bill seeking to reduce the minimum voting age in those elections from 18 to 16 is tabled in committee.

House Bill 96, sponsored by State Rep. Eric Morrison, would only allow those under the age of 16 to vote in school board races. For all other public school elections, including referendums, the minimum voting age would remain 18.

Following a lengthy discussion, a majority of committee members agreed the measure is not ready to move forward.

One concern is the effect of holding the elections in schools while voting-eligible students are in class.

Using Appoquinimink School District as an example, State Rep. Bryan Shupe says voting would be so accessible to students in schools, that turnout from 16-18 year olds would likely match the roughly 1,200 total voters who cast ballots last year.

“You can't have almost the entire population who voted in the last election already there waiting at the polling place,” said Shupe.

Shupe suggests this could need to be addressed by moving polling places, or giving students the day off from school.

And while it would not have taken effect until next year, with this year's school board voting next week, the topic of voter turnout seemed to dominate the conversation.

Morrison argues allowing Delawareans to engage in voting at a younger age would increase their likelihood of voting throughout their lives - emphasizing that school board elections regularly only get single digit percentage turnout- rarely ever topping 8%.

Many opposing the bill were against the idea of children being able to vote - with arguments ranging from their lack of civic knowledge to the internet’s influence on their actions. But Morrison says there is no standard for why someone should vote.

“We do not say ‘we want to know first what your reasons are for voting.’ We don’t do that, and no democracy should do that,” said Morrison.

Several supporters of the bill defended the idea of younger people voting, saying students are actively engaged in school issues, and therefore should have the right to weigh in on them.

Delaware’s 2023 school board elections take place May 9th.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.