Maryland Town Grants 16 Year-Olds The Right To Vote

Takoma Park, a Maryland suburb just outside Washington, D.C., has granted teenagers the right to vote in town elections:

When Takoma Park’s next Election Day arrives in November, the lines of voters ready to cast their ballots for the City Council will include a new set of voters making history.

During its Monday meeting, the Takoma Park City Council passed a series of city charter amendments regarding its voting and election laws, including one allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in city elections.

The other adopted charter changes include those allowing felons who have served their sentence of incarceration to vote and same-day voter registration.

With Monday’s vote, Takoma Park became the first city in the United States to lower its voting age — which was previously 18 — to 16.

The voting age amendment brought out young residents to an April 8 public hearing where they cited their readiness and eagerness to participate in the city’s elections.

Other residents argued, however, that the teenagers lacked the maturity and experience to handle the responsibility and that they would be easily influenced by their parents.

Before he voted in support of the charter amendments, Mayor Bruce Williams said that, while he originally had not been convinced the change was a good one, he agreed with the argument that lowering the voting age could help residents establish a lifelong habit of voting.

Councilman Seth Grimes said that, after hearing and soliciting city residents’ opinions, he was not convinced by the arguments some presented that the young residents lacked maturity and that parents might influence their children’s political decisions.

“I just don’t buy it, and I don’t buy that we should be motivated by fear of the downside,” Grimes said.

For Councilman Tim Male, who initiated the council’s voting age discussion, the amendment “is a great step forward” in a set of important charter changes.

“We have many 16- and 17-year-olds in our community who care deeply about this place” and are deeply engaged in politics, Male said.

Personally, I’m not convinced. Yes, you can argue that it’s a good idea to develop an interest in voting at an early age, but I can’t get beyond the fact that these kids are still, well, kids and arguably don’t have the same incentives and understanding of the issues as adults do. Eighteen may be an arbitrary number to decide when someone is an adult, but it’s one that has worked well for us and I don’t see any reason to change it.

Incidentally, this law will not impact any other voter registration laws, so teenagers will still be ineligible to vote in state and federal elections.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll take the average 16 year-old over the average 80 year-old any day of the week. The 16 year old is voting about a future he’ll see. The 80 year old is defending a past that’s dead.

  2. wr says:

    Somewhere out there, Tsar Nicky’s head is exploding…

  3. Nathan says:

    ” don’t have the same incentives”

    Yeah, they’re probably more worried about stupid issues like “education” and “the environment” and “the long term viability of social security” as opposed to “keeping government hands off my medicare.”

    ” and understanding of the issues as adults do.”

    I doubt youd find much of a difference.

    Furthermore from a purely philosophical standpoint a minor who works still pays taxes and has no vote in how those tax dollars should be spent. If they’re smart/independent/able enough to work, then they’re probably smart/independent/able enough to vote.

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    In Brazil people over 16 can vote. I voted in 1998, when I was 17.

    (I confess, It was teenage naivité)

  5. Vast Variety says:

    Municipal elections are the ones that are most likely to have a direct impact on a 16 or 17 year old and I think allowing them to vote at that level is a good thing. I’d still limit state and federal elections to those 18 and above.

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    Two additional points:

    1-) One can argue that the Brazilian population is apathetic to politics, but the fact is that few 16 years old people vote, even if they are allowed to.

    2-) I think that granting younger people the right to vote is a good idea. In the US, the Elderly have a disproportional political clout(In part because elections are held in the middle of the week), and more younger votes could be a counterbalance to that.

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This is a perfect example of the strength of our political system. Let this Maryland community try it out, see how it works, and then other areas can look at the results and say “maybe we should try it” or “God, they were totally effed in the head, weren’t they?”

    Of course, there are those who will argue that this invokes the Equal Protection Clause or some such and since 16-year-olds can vote here, they should be able to vote everywhere…

  8. Tony W says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: As a kid I used to argue that age-laws are problematic with regard to the 14th Amendment in particular. I even tried to engage the ACLU at age 15 or 16 to make a case of it – alas there was no response. I was sure that I was going to be the Rosa Parks of teenage drinking.

    I grew up and realized I don’t want my neighbors 9 year old buying liquor….but from a strict constitutional perspective that kid is a citizen….

  9. Caj says:

    Good for them. Some of our young folk are a darn sight smarter than some of these idiots we have now in Congress! Only some young folks have to work for a pittance in crap fast food jobs most of the time and those jerks in Congress get a good salary alongside a good health care package and other perks! Ususally after leaving that job they go into another lucrative job as in being a lobbyist!!!!

  10. Boyd says:

    While I don’t personally think that lowering the voting age to 16 is wise…well, it’s Takoma Park. This change is of a piece with their past.

    That being said, it strikes me that your argument is weak if it boils down to, “16-year-olds should be able to vote because ad hominem.”

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Tony W: A whole hell of a lot of us were right there with you, Tony.

    What’s that old line? When I was 16, I knew my father was an idiot. When I was 21, I was amazed how much he’d learned in five years…

  12. Brainster says:

    My guess is that teens will fail to turn out in droves, and those that do will turn out to be conservative.

  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I had a lot more time to keep up with local issues and politics when I was in high school than I do now as an adult. If anything, I’d say it is more likely that it will be the kids telling their parents what’s going on, not the other way around.

  14. bill says:

    they’re heading the wrong way, should be at least 21. most kids have no idea what’s going on outside the world of facebook.

  15. al-Ameda says:

    I’m not sure what to make of this, but perhaps it is instructive to ask this: “Are 16 year olds any more or less likely than Todd Akin to believe in the concept of ‘legitimate rape'”?

    Seriously, Americans have dumbed down a lot in the past 30 years or so. It seems like we default to the lowest common denominator for everything these days.

  16. matt says:

    I was just as naive at 18 as I was at 16…

  17. GMoney says:

    @michael reynolds: 16 yr olds (generally speaking) have no clue where any money comes from that pays for whatever they can think of. Too many older than 16 also dont know. “Hey, free stuff? Oh yea, I’m votin’ for THAT guy!!!”