Takoma Park, Md. will allow 16- and 17-year-old to cast ballots in local elections.
Most 16-year-olds can vote in student elections, but in one Maryland community they'll soon gain an important right afforded only to adults in the U.S.—the right to vote in local elections.
On Monday the Takoma Park City Council voted 6-1 to approve an amendment to the municipal charter lowering the voting age for local contests from 18 to 16. With the vote, Takoma Park becomes the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to cast ballots in local elections.
Supporters of the measure said that lowering the voting age would attract more people to participate in local elections, as well as help encourage a life-long habit of casting ballots in municipal races, which tend to be low-turnout affairs. It would also engage young residents that work, pay taxes and take advantage of city services.
"This change to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote is a step towards bringing them into the process of being included in the community in a way they can't be anywhere else in the United States," said Council member Tim Male (Ward 2).
Additionally, the supporters of the measure dismissed concerns that young voters aren't educated enough or could be swayed by their parents. "I go over what the worst-case scenarios could be in extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, and I just don't come up with anything very serious," said Council member Seth Grimes (Ward 1).
Only Council member Fred Schultz (Ward 6) dissented, saying that he did not feel comfortable allowing the council to vote on such changes to the charter and would rather them put to the voters in a referendum. "Modifying the charter is something different...it's not something to be tampered with lightly."
The charter amendments would also allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote, would drop residency requirements for voter registration from 30 to 21 days and would allow for same-day registration.
This isn't the first time that the city has moved towards expanding the franchise—over two decades ago it moved to allow non-U.S. citizens to cast ballots in local elections.
"Other nations, from Argentina to Austria, have allowed 16-year-olds to vote, but Takoma Park is the first city in the United States to achieve this level of democracy," said Bill Bystricky, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association in a statement. "Takoma Park is leading the way to a brighter and more democratic future."
Some 17,000 people live in Takoma Park.