SWAMPSCOTT, MA — A series of sweeping changes to the way Swampscott conducts local elections are proposed for the upcoming special town meeting aimed at increasing voter turnout and participation in town government — especially among young people.

The March 11 special town meeting warrant will include provisions to lower the voting age in local elections to 16 years old, to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to run for town government positions, to change the date of the annual town meeting to before the annual town election (currently it is shortly afterward) and to move the election day itself from a Tuesday to consecutive weekends at the beginning of June each year.

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“This sends a really clear message that this is a priority for us,” Select Board member Peter Spellios said. “That this is important for us. It’s not going to replace the need to get out the word about elections, to talk about elections and encourage elections. But it’s certainly going to start sending a very strong message about it.”

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Spellios introduced the articles at Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting, saying there is a need for change after “embarrassingly low” voter turnout in Swampscott town elections in recent years.

The turnout in the 2023 election was 13.8 percent, with 16.25 percent of registered voters voting in 2022, 19.12 percent voting in 2021, 16.9 percent voting in 2020, 22.11 percent voting in 2019 and 9.45 percent voting in 2018 — for a six-year average of 16.3 percent.

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Over the last 50 years, according to the figures Spellios provided, voting in federal elections has gone down 2.3 percent, voting in state elections has gone down 7.9 percent and voting in local elections in Swampscott has gone down 45 percent.

Unlike cities, which hold their elections in the fall, towns that hold annual spring elections do not benefit from the turnout bumps that occur when local offices are up for vote in presidential years and years in which there are compelling state and Congressional elections.

The warrant articles also include provisions to make seven days of early voting mandatory as part of the town charter and to make it so at least 10 write-in votes are necessary to elect a town meeting member.

Spellios said he has spoken with school officials to coordinate outreach efforts with Swampscott High School students in February ahead of the March 11 special town meeting.

While some Select Board members said they needed to consider different aspects of the proposals before committing full support to them, the articles generally received positive reactions from the Board.

“One of the things my husband and strive to do is to take our kids with us when we vote to have them understand that in order to be a member of this community you must be an active member of this community,” Select Board member Katie Phelan said. “That means you’ve got to put in some work. And voting day is actually probably the easiest day to do the work because you just go in you have an opinion.

“But it’s part of the contract that you have to be a member of this town. And anything we can do to sort of ignite that flame earlier to understand that these young citizens are not just kids who are told what to do but have a voice in the process, I think it’s a fantastic social experiment that will provide us with a lot of interesting data and is well worth the effort to see what will come from it.”

While there are no communities in the state that currently allow voters as young as 16 years old, if passed, Swampscott would join Boston, Somerville, Concord, Acton, Northhampton and Southborough as cities and towns that have proposed that change.

If passed at town meeting, the charter revisions would still have to be accepted by the state legislature and governor as part of the home-rule petition process.

The articles are part of a warrant that may include up to 12 articles at the special town meeting.

Others include a proposal to strip Tedesco Country Club of its tax-exempt status for the land that lies within Swampscott, and the reintroduction of accepting a $100,000 state grant to offset the cost of constructing pickleball courts at Phillips Park.

A vote to accept the grant failed at the last special town meeting in December when it fell a handful of votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Under the wording of the new article, so-called “free cash” would be used to pay for the town’s portion of park funding — a change that means only a simple majority would be needed for passage.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. X/Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

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