The city council of Hyattsville recently voted 7 to 4 to pass a measure that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in upcoming local elections. On January 5th, the act was approved and Hyattsville become only the second municipality in the United States to lower the voting age to 16, following in the footsteps of its neighbor Takoma Park. On Jan. 20th, the city council took a final vote to officially change the charter, and it is set to go into effect March 11.
Statistics from the 2014 midterm elections show that the current voter turnout is at the lowest it has been since World War II. There are currently about 10,000 registered voters in the city of Hyattsville and, according to a census estimate, between 200 and 250 teenagers will be granted a vote in the upcoming municipal elections in May.
Opponents of the measure claim that granting teenagers a vote would offer only a short-term solution to the issue of low voter turnout. Others argue that adolescents have underdeveloped brains and are apathetic and ignorant toward politics, and therefore would make uninformed decisions.
Hyattsville city councilman Patrick Paschall, who proposed and sponsored the measure, believes that teenagers deserve a vote because they drive on city roads, pay income taxes, and seek support from the police just like any adult citizen. He also argues that instilling the value of voting in high school kids will help improve the nation’s poor voter turnout by motivating the electorate to continue voting when they are older.
“We can’t say we want to hear their voices and want them to be more engaged, but not do anything to engage them,” Paschall, who remains optimistic about the effectiveness of his bill, said to the Washington Post. “By voting younger, teenagers establish a habit of voting that they carry through the rest of their lives.”
According to Paschall, the earlier teenagers are allowed to participate in the democratic process, the sooner they learn to take advantage of their political voices and make their own conscious choices. In fact, many teenagers are already beginning to develop political views independent of their parents’ politics.
“I didn’t even ask who my parents are voting for,” Hyattsville resident Sarah Leonard, 15, told the Washington Post. “I’m forming my own political views from what I’m learning, and that’s kind of the point of all of this.”
When Takoma Park first reduced its voting age back in 2013, teenagers in Lowell, Massachusetts began lobbying their state legislators for similar laws. The legislative successes in first Takoma Park and now Hyattsville have spurred youth across the nation to rally for voting rights in their own hometowns. Members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently agreed to consider implementing similar measures.
As Hyattsville teens prepare to storm the polls for the first time in May, the issue of lowering the voting age continues to gain momentum in small, liberal cities nationwide.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Catherine Yang of Wootton High School