11-year-olds get to vote, but UWS sticks to 14

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Despite a citywide move to open up the Participatory Budgeting process, City Council Member Helen Rosenthal's office keeps to the old voting age in her district


  • Although the voting age in the Participatory Budgeting process was lowered to 11 citywide, Upper West Side City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, pictured at a recent hearing at City Hall, chose to keep it at 14. Photo: Council Member Helen Rosenthal

The New York City Council's Participatory Budgeting program, which gives residents a chance to choose which among a list of capital projects should be funded in their neighborhoods, is billed as a way of introducing young people to civic life. To further encourage participation, the minimum voting age this year was lowered to 11, from the previous cutoff of 14.

But on the Upper West Side, Council Member Helen Rosenthal has taken a different approach, stating on her website and in other materials that voting for Participatory Budgeting is open to residents age 14 or older.

“We are sticking with our age requirement from last year, which was 14 and up,” said Sarah Crean, Rosenthal's communications director. Crean said that Rosenthal's office would not turn away 11-, 12- or 13-years-olds if they came to a voting location, but explained that youth engagement efforts would focus on voters age 14 and up.

“We're trying to engage young people in a way that best serves the needs of everybody in the district,” Crean said.

Before this year's move to open the vote to 11-year-olds, the voting age for Participatory Budgeting was previously lowered from 16 to 14 — a change Rosenthal's office advocated for, Crean said.

“The office felt strongly that when the city wanted to bring it down to 11 that we wanted to keep it at 14 because we felt that that would allow voters to have the biggest impact in the district,” Crean said.

“We really believe in Participatory Budgeting,” she said. “We totally respect it. I think essentially this would be a respectful difference from one of the guidelines based on our experience with the process and what we've seen in the district.”

The Participatory Budgeting program, now in its seventh year, allows residents to vote on how to allocate $1 million in capital discretionary funding within their Council district. Projects on the ballot this year in Rosenthal's Sixth District include improvements to local libraries, sidewalks, schools and public housing developments. Residents can vote for multiple projects, and typically two or more initiatives are funded per year, depending on the price tag of each project with the most votes until the allotted funding runs out.

Residents of Council District Six can vote at a number of locations on the Upper West Side, including Rosenthal's district office, as well as online. The Council's online voting system prompts voters to affirm that they live in District Six, will only vote once, and are at least 11 years or in the sixth grade.

“We have spoken with the [City Council] speaker's office on this and they know that we have decided to stick with last year's policy,” Crean said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's office said Council staff “has addressed [Council Members'] concerns about the participatory budgeting voting age and has encouraged Council Members to adhere to the rules and allow everyone who wishes to vote to do so.”

According to the citywide Participatory Budgeting rulebook posted on the City Council's website, “People can vote for projects if they live in the district and are at least 11 years old or in 6th Grade.” The rulebook does not detail the latitude given to individual council members in adjusting voting rules within their districts.

It is unclear if any other Council members have chosen not to adopt the new age minimum. Rosenthal's fellow Manhattan Council representatives Ben Kallos, Corey Johnson and Ydanis Rodriguez each advertised the new voting age of 11 in promotional materials.

Participatory budget voting opened April 7 and runs through April 15. Results will be announced later this spring.

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