Takoma Park Opens Voter Rolls To Sixteen-Year-Olds (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Takoma Park Opens Voter Rolls To 16-Year-Olds

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We turn now to another checkpoint on the road to adulthood, registering to vote. Like getting your driver's license, or graduating from high school, taking part in the democratic process is another sign you are growing up. But, as Steven Yenzer tells us, in Takoma Park, Md., teens will be reaching that milestone a bit earlier than most kids.

MR. STEVEN YENZER

00:00:23
Meet Ben Miller, he's 16, lives in Takoma Park, and this November he'll be eligible to vote in local elections.

MR. BEN MILLER

00:00:29
I was told I was the first person. I don't know if that's true, but…

YENZER

00:00:33
Ben was indeed the first 16-year-old to be added to the voter rolls since Takoma Park amended its charter. I found him working in a gelato shop at the center of the city, where he said he's excited to see his community make this change.

MILLER

00:00:46
I think it's awesome. I think it's a real honor.

YENZER

00:00:49
Takoma Park Councilman Tim Male led the charge to lower the voting age. It was a part of a larger set of voting reforms passed in April, including extending suffrage to former felons and instituting same-day registration. Male says lowering the voting age wasn't initially on his agenda, until he looked into similar reforms in Europe.

MR. TIM MALE

00:01:08
Learning that the voting age was lower than 18 in other countries and other places was complete news to me. And so I was open to the idea that -- well, how is it working?

YENZER

00:01:17
In fact, it's working quite well. Studies in Austria and Denmark have found that extending suffrage to teens gets them into the habit of voting.

MALE

00:01:26
What they found is that 16 and 17-year-olds show up. They show up to vote. They understand the issues, at least as well as 18, 19, and 20-year-olds do. And then I think, for me at least, even more importantly, if you start them voting at 16 and 17 there's some evidence that they will keep voting when they get to 18 and 19 and 20.

YENZER

00:01:43
In the U.S., that age group is notorious for low turnout. So I asked Male what concerns did people have about lowering the voting age.

MALE

00:01:52
Many people were concerned that 16 and 17-year-olds don't have the maturity to vote, you know, bad judgment. People talked about just interest, right, whether 16 and 17-year-olds would actually be interested in voting.

YENZER

00:02:04
But Male doesn't buy those arguments and neither does Ben Miller.

MILLER

00:02:07
I don't know if maturity is the issue. I'd say it's really just about being informed. I think all of my friends are capable of assessing the candidates and seeing which ones align with their views. I don't think 16-year-olds, like, oh, no, their frontal lobe isn't developed enough to understand politics. Like, we get it.

YENZER

00:02:32
They may get it, but will they turn out to vote? Well, according to the City Clerk, more than 80 of Takoma Park's 16 and 17-year-olds are registered to vote, about a quarter of that population. And Councilman Male expects that number to rise on Election Day, as voters will now be able to register at their polling places. So what do the older residents of Takoma Park think about the idea of 16-year-old voters? Just down the street from the gelato shop where Ben Miller works, I asked 48-year-old Mark Greiner how it made him feel to see his city to become the first in the country to make this change.

MR. MARK GREINER

00:03:05
Excited. I mean, this is the kind of community that we're in. It really pleases me that we're in a place where civic discourse is really, really important. So I'm excited for the process here, and I'm excited about the opportunity for young people.

YENZER

00:03:21
Thirty-one-year-old Lauren Alexander is a little more cautious. I asked her what concerns she had about the change.

MS. LAUREN ALEXANDER

00:03:28
I think normal concerns, like you're 16 years old, you think you rule the world, but you don't really know anything, but you think you know everything.

YENZER

00:03:35
But back in the gelato shop, Ben doesn't buy it. I think I have plenty of friends who are more politically mature than probably the vast majority of Americans. I mean, the vast majority of people my age aren't. But in Takoma Park I think that there are a lot of 16-year-olds who have their (unintelligible) together, so to speak.

YENZER

00:03:59
We'll have to wait until November to see just how many teens have their stuff together. I'm Steven Yenzer.

SHEIR

00:04:06
How do you feel about lowering the voting age to 16? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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