MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
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
I was told I was the first person. I don't know if that's true, but…
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.
I think it's awesome. I think it's a real honor.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
But Male doesn't buy those arguments and neither does Ben Miller.
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.
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
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.
Thirty-one-year-old Lauren Alexander is a little more cautious. I asked her what concerns she had about the change.
MS. LAUREN ALEXANDER
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.
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.
We'll have to wait until November to see just how many teens have their stuff together. I'm Steven Yenzer.
How do you feel about lowering the voting age to 16? You can reach us at email@example.com or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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