Hitting Sweet 16 includes all sorts of coming-of-age perks and responsibilities. Voting could become a new one.
A plan to lower the voting age in the City of Takoma Park, Md., would create the youngest voters in the nation.In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.The measure in Takoma Park would only apply to local elections for mayor and the city council, and its objective, in part, is to make the election process more representative and diverse.
Last week, the Takoma Park City Council voted 6-1 to change its charter to become the first city in America to lower the voting age to 16. While we are the first city to adopt this policy, we have little doubt that others will follow. Maryland already has been a national leader in extending voting rights to younger voters when it opened its primaries years ago to 17-year-olds. That practice has spread to more than 20 states, and the case for a lower voting age in local elections is similarly strong.
The context for action was an accompanying measure backing an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution and local actions in support of suffrage. The city will also establish Election Day voter registration and extend voting rights to more people with past felony convictions, and may adopt Minnesota’s policy of ensuring that candidates have access to apartment buildings to talk with residents.
Because studies show conclusively that both voting and not voting are habit-forming, providing a “first vote” opportunity for those more settled in their community is particularly important. The fact that those given a first chance to vote at 18 participate in higher rates than those unable to vote until 19 helps explain why studies show that Austria — one of several nations recently lowering the voting age to 16 — has experienced a significant turnout boost among for first-time voters.
Final council passage came after months of public input. The testimony of so many young people was particularly persuasive: They have earned the right to be treated with the same respect as any other potential voter, and government will be accountable to more of our residents.
Our nation’s history has been one of regular expansion of suffrage. Low participation in government and elections is a threat to democracy. Our cities are the best places to try innovations to address that challenge. We’re proud to be a part of a city that has chosen to include more of our sons and daughters in the best part of democracy — making a choice together about our future on Election Day.
I like this because it’s such a radical departure from the suspicious, distrustful attitude towards voters and voting that has so dominated in the last decade – no black-bordered FRAUD warnings, no threats of felony charges. Instead there’s all this crazy, loose talk about “expansion” and “democracy” and “our sons and daughters.” Doesn’t it sound old-fashioned? Where’s the list of the requirements and prohibitions and stern warnings? So confident, too. They have “little doubt” that others will follow.
Davis X. Machina
16 is already half-measures.
How about Demeny voting?
I remember being 16 and feeling livid that I wasn’t allowed to vote while all kinds of moron relatives (and teachers) of mine we’re allowed to usher in one idiot after another.
Maybe it would be a bad move for national elections, but bully for these folks for bringing it to the local level.
I like this. I don’t know that I’d want the voting age to go any lower — 15 might be okay — but 16 seems a good age to set up voter “training wheels”. They get to vote locally at 16, add the primaries in at 17, and join the national elections at 18.
It’s really a pretty nifty idea. Taking that down to 15, follow the same path, and let teenagers start voting nationally at 17 might work even better.
I’d like to see 17 year olds have a say in whether they’ll get shipped off to war, or not, before they turn 18.
Ahem. TAKOMA PARK REPRESENT!
Yeah I got your east coast liberal DFH enclave right here…
mike with a mic
I’ve never understood the concept of different ages for different parts of adulthood. Military, voting, driving, drinking, smoking, guns, sex, porn, credit cards. It’s a bit of a mess. There should just be a universal age for all of it, 16 doesn’t sound all that bad.
What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
I live in Takoma Park. Had no idea we were doing this but I’m OK with it.
mike with a mic:
Yeah, I’ve always thought it’s especially bizarre that we tell teenagers they can’t drink till 21, but we can send them into battle at 18.
Although I suppose my related wish – any congressperson who votes for war is eligible to be drafted into said war – will never happen. Big sad sigh…
I can see 16, if that is the age a person can quit school in Maryland. If the law says you are old enough to decide to finish that darn larnin’, then you are grown up enough to vote.
I don’t agree with this:
” Our nation’s history has been one of regular expansion of suffrage. ”
Allowing aliens (foreigners, not space) to vote in state and local elections used to be much more common. I think last place that allowed that stopped in early 1930s.
what makes teenagers good for the military is what makes them terrible with booze: an underdeveloped sense of their own mortality.
Tone In DC
Gotta like it.
Straight outta Georgia Avenue here.
I think it’s awesome. I’d be all for letting 16-year-olds vote in national elections, too. If we trust them on the road we should trust them in the booth. Plus, it’d make for excellent junior and senior year civics/social studies. Spend the first two months studying the current issues, then take the kids on a field trip to vote. I think it would encourage increased participation for the rest of their lives.
Which means the GOP will do everything they can to make sure it never becomes a reality.
@dporpentine: My memories are different. I just remember nobody even really knowing HOW to vote at 16 and being one of the only people my age that actually showed up to vote at 18 (or 21 for that matter.) The ‘kids’ in my circle just didn’t seem to vote. I think they started around the time they hit 27.
School board elections are also a very good candidate for this.
Fourteen or fight! (netflix “Wild in the Streets”) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRLwV2xafpk
They did a study years ago, where they showed first time voters how to use a voting machine before their 1st election.
It really made a difference. People were ashamed to ask.
My middle son was amazed at how much was on the ballot the first time he went. It was off-year, 2011, so it was actually a “short” ballot.
He asked what is a fairly common question: “do you have to vote every line?”
People think they have to complete the ballot or we’ll disqualify it or something.
@Kay: It’s AMAZING how people will avoid things if they think there is the possibility of embarrassment. Also, it’s a real crime our high schools don’t TEACH the students how to vote and what to expect. But as you said it really makes a difference and those in charge maybe don’t WANT a difference? Maybe?
It’s true. I worked at a rural post office with combination PO boxes for a time. A lock that spins rather than keyed. I’d assign new people the box and then notice they weren’t picking up the mail. They couldn’t open the box and didn’t ask for help. I don’t know how long they were going to go. Years?
@Kay: It would NOT surprise me if some of them simply had their mail forwarded to another close by city just so they could avoid asking about it and thus seem ‘stupid’.
IIRC, Takoma Park is also one of the places that allows noncitizen residents to vote in local elections.
My (16 year old) son will have an occasional glass of red wine, but there is NO WAY IN HELL he’s going to enlist.
I think one of the causes of low turnout among young people is that Americans start being able to vote at 18, and get to vote in maybe one election before a large fraction of them go off to college, where there are usually high and intentional barriers keeping them from voting. The non-student residents of college towns usually don’t want to get them registered locally, and may actively try to prevent it; and voting absentee in the home district takes both extra advance planning, and some will to stay plugged into the local politics of the kids’ possibly far-away home towns.
Most students don’t bother. Probably the best way to change the situation would be to somehow get college towns to accept that college students should register to vote there, and make sure it’s legal and easy to do so. But, failing that, lowering the voting age to 15 or 16 would at least get some students into the habit of voting, and thinking it’s a normal thing for them to expect to be able to do.
@Davis X. Machina: I thought the idea of giving parents proxy votes for their children was a potential disaster until I realized that, on a state-by-state basis, they already have proxy votes for their children: representation in Congress and the Electoral College is apportioned by total population, not by voting-age population.
I’m not sure it would do much more harm to make sure the people with the extra representation actually are the parents themselves.
I used to live in Takoma Park, right up the hill from the Food Co-Op. I still go to my dentist on Maple Ave. I remember my landlord who lived in and owned the house I rented the attic from wanted to remove one of the bushes on her own property and the City of Takoma Park denied her permission until they voted on the measure. People call it the “Republic of Takoma Park” as an insult but I loved it there.
@Tone In DC:
I live in Aspen Hill now, up the road from the shopping center but I’ll be moving to Inwood Ave (Kemp Mill) in three weeks. Where on Georgia Ave are you?
Max Frost and the Troopers! “Shape of Things to Come.”
@What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?:
i used to live in granola park and this is something that doesn’t surprise me at all.
Still can’t have a beer, though.