Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?
January 8, 2014
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
Turning 16 is big. In most states, being 16 means the freedom of driving and getting a job without parental approval. But in Takoma Park, Md., it comes with another responsibility – voting.
About 350 16- and 17-year-olds were granted the right to vote in local elections, making them the only enfranchised Americans under the age of 18.
Ben Miller, a Montgomery Blair High School junior and part-time gelato artisan, voted on Nov. 5. He told the Washington Post: “It’s a valuable privilege.”
While the Takoma Park students cannot vote in state and national elections, they can affect elections on the local level. Miller, for example, voted not only in the mayoral election but also for his local council member. The under-18 voters can also vote on local issues like bonds and changes to the town charter.
Why would a town want to lower the voting age? Simply put, engagement and enfranchisement.
“The question was, ‘How do we get more people to vote?’¬ ” said Councilman Tim Male, who introduced the proposal. It was one of several changes to city election rules this year that were designed to boost turnout. Faced with a dismal 19 percent voter turnout in local elections, council members began to discuss ways to get more people to the polls.
After considering proposals for same-day registration and allowing felons to vote in local elections, the council heard from Rob Richie, director of the national reform organization FairVote and a Takoma Park resident, who had read reports about how 16-year-olds would be more receptive to voting than their counterparts two years older.
Eighteen-year-olds, it turns out, “are not a very good first voting age group,” Richie said, because many of them are in the midst of leaving their childhood homes. “As you get more disrupted in your life, the less likely you are to vote,” he said. “Voting is this communitarian act; it is about a connection to a broader community.”
Residents against lowering the voting age said young people don’t have enough perspective to vote. One person said that teens should not be allowed to “dilute” the value of the ballots cast by “older, more experienced voters.”
Most of the 350 newly enfranchised did not vote even though they had the right, something that the council members expected. The Takoma Park city clerk said about 90 16- and 17-year-olds registered to vote.
Miller is aware that he is part of a tiny vanguard. “I understand the apathy. How much of a difference will it really make?” he said. “I’m still excited about the opportunity. The turnout is so low, even a small amount could make a difference.”
What do you think?
Would expanding voting rights to 16-year-olds increase voter turnout? If you were given the chance, would you vote? Does the fact they are limited to voting in only elections minimize their responsibility? Do 16-year-olds have enough perspective on life to vote? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
Join the Discussion