Takoma Park could become the first city in the United States to lower its voting age to 16 for local elections.
In an effort to encourage more voters in local elections, council members Tim Male and Seth Grimes have proposed several initiatives—one being lowering the voting age.
“I really care about making elections easier,” Male, council member for Ward 2, said. “I have honestly been interested in this since I’ve been campaigning. You meet young people who are really engaged but cannot vote."
Male and Grimes said they hope to make other changes to local elections to raise voter turnout as well.
Some include easing candidates’ access to apartments and requiring apartments to put up notices regarding voting. They also want the city to create welcome packets for new residents that will give them more information about local elections. Male said he realized when he was campaigning how hard it was to get apartment dwellers and new residents involved in the election process.
Male and Grimes' election proposals also seek to allow residents to register to vote on the day of the election, expand early voting opportunities and create a task force on voting to figure out new ways to increase voter turnout.
The idea of lowering the voting age for local elections is causing some debate.
Colleen Clay, a former Takoma Park councilmember, said that while she's not "inconvincible," she has not heard much discussion on the issue and it needs to be debated more before the council takes a vote.
Being a mother of two teenagers, Clay said she can attest to the fact that while her children are engaged with certain issues, they have a lot of other interests that are of higher priority.
“Would [my children] be able to understand the issues in the same way? They really don’t think so. They are so focused on the crew team, the sailing team...They are focused on being teenagers," said Clay.
Others are more sold on the initiative.
“I think it’s [a good idea] because teenagers know more than we give them credit for. They should have a voice,” Justine Larson, a Takoma Park resident, said.
Grimes, councilmember for Ward 1, said he supported the initiative because of the engaged 16- and 17-year-olds he has met in Takoma Park.
“We thought it was the right thing to allow them to participate,” Grimes said.
Both Male and Grimes argue that the notion of 16- and 17-year-old voters is not new. Some 17-year-olds can vote in primary elections, in certain states, if their birthday falls before the national election. Also, in various foreign countries like Austria, Argentina and Brazil, the minimum voting age is 16.
These election proposals are within the city's domain as long as they do not go against pre-existing state or national laws. It is unconstitutional to deny anyone 18 or older the right to vote on the basis of age but nothing deters the government from make less restrictive voting laws, according to Male.
Male said lowering the voting age will benefit Takoma Park. He said it would increase voter turnout, start positive voting habits and diversify the voting demographic in Takoma Park.
Some politically involved teens have given their support to the initiative.
Ben Feshbach, a student at Thomas S. Wootton in Rockville, is doing his part by overseeing an online petition on signon.org.
“I decided to get involved with council member Tim Male because I support the idea,” Feshbach said. “I believe if there is a chance to lower the voting age in a municipality and I have an ability to help, I should do so.”
Feshbach said that helping another city’s cause despite not living there is no different from gay rights activists traveling from New York to campaign for Question 6 in Maryland, which would make same-sex marriage legal in the state.
Montgomery County students are some of the most educated students in the country, according to Feshbach.
“Voting is the cornerstone to democracy, and I believe offering teens the chance to vote in local elections can help encourage civic responsibility,” he said.
Takoma Park will hold a public hearing on the electoral proposals on Monday, April 8.