Could a Maryland Town Allow 16-Year-Olds to Vote?

Ben Terris
National Journal

When it comes to local elections, 18 may be the worst age to be a first-time voter. Whether heading off to college or moving to a new town for a job, the odds of getting an 18-year-old to care about who is going to be mayor or council member or president aren’t good.

In an effort to get more young people involved with elections, Takoma Park, Md., is thinking about lowering the voting age for local elections to 16. In doing so, they are wading into a debate that has been echoed throughout the country ever since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971.

The idea behind the proposal is simple: getting more people to the polls.

“I really care about making elections easier,” Tim Male, a council member and coauthor of the proposal “I have honestly been interested in this since I’ve been campaigning. You meet young people who are really engaged but cannot vote."

There are a number of other places in the country where 17-year-olds can vote in a primary if their 18th birthday is before the general election, but Takoma Park would be the first place in the country that allows 16-year-olds to vote.

Judging by similar attempts elsewhere, Takoma Park will have a steep hill to climb to get this passed. Just look at Lowell, Mass. There, advocates have been fighting to lower the voting age to 17 for more than three years, and they have met sharp resistance. In 2011, Secretary of State William Galvin wrote a legal opinion declaring the petition unconstitutional.

If Takoma Park becomes the first place to allow 16-year-olds to vote, don’t expect the rest of the country to follow suit. But it would still be a win for advocates such as the National Youth Rights Association, which has been pushing for a lower voting age as one of its top priorities (no surprise there). It calls the Takoma proposal a potential “breakthrough.”

For this group, lowering the voting age is a no-brainer. Its top 10 list of reasons for lowering the age include: If we let stupid adults vote, why not let smart youth vote?; youth pay taxes; and politicians will represent their interests if youth vote.

And plenty of people agree with these basic concepts. Last year, for example, Argentina did in fact lower its voting age to 16. In 2011, Jonathan Bernstein of The New Republic went even further, arguing to lower the voting age to … zero. Bernstein makes the point that if the point of voting is to provide fair representation, then all people, including infants (parents would cast a vote on their behalf) a voice.

But not everyone is onboard. For the last word, one of the loudest critics (on all subjects, not just this one) enters: Ann Coulter, from 2010.

“Those of you who have made it to age 26 without dying in a stupid drinking game—and I think congratulations are in order, by the way—understand how insane it is to allow young people to vote,” she wrote.  “Republicans ought to fight for their own electorate, which at a minimum ought to mean voters with fully functioning brains and the possibility of a tax bill. Not old enough to buy your own health insurance, not old enough to vote.”