Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly attributed information to Hyattsville resident Shirley Fisher. Fisher did not say that she did not see the point of lowering the voting age. The article has been corrected.
Hyattsville has become the second municipality in the country to lower the voting age for city elections to 16, nearly two years after its progressive neighbors in Takoma Park took similar steps.
During a public meeting Monday night, residents young and old packed into City Hall to speak overwhelmingly in support of council member Patrick Paschall’s measure to extend voting rights to more city residents.
The council voted 7 to 4 in favor of amending the city charter.
“This measure sends a message to the rest of the state and country that Hyattsville is a great place to live with an engaged community that wants to see our community at its very best,” Paschall (Ward 3) said in a statement.
Based on census estimates, the council member estimated that between 200 and 250 teenagers in the Prince George’s County city will be eligible to vote in May’s municipal elections because of the age change. There are about 10,000 registered voters in the city.
Before the vote, several residents said the question should be put on a ballot rather than left to the council.
“Let’s let the residents decide who they want making decisions that will affect their quality of life,” Shirley Fisher said.
A couple of residents told the council that they did not see the point of lowering the voting age. But supporters — including high school students — pushed the council for an up-or-down vote. If 16- and 17-year-olds can drive, hold a job and pay taxes, they said, they should also help decide who represents them in public office.
“If they are mature enough to drive a car, then voting shouldn’t be much of a challenge,” said 9-year-old Evan Hunt, son of council member Timothy Hunt, who along with Paschall represents Hyattsville’s Ward 3.
Nate Groves, 17, first learned about the proposal when Paschall came knocking on his front door. He said class discussions at his school, DeMatha Catholic High School, had recently piqued his interest in government. He has begun streaming City Council meetings and wants to participate in a more meaningful way.
“I don’t know why anyone would be against it,” Groves said. “All it means is more voters.”
Groves said he would encourage his friends to register to vote if the measure passed. “You start the habit early, and it becomes something you just do,” he said.
Hyattsville resident Flawn Williams recalled being just 15 when he became politically active, canvassing for a Maryland Republican he knew as Ted Agnew — but who later became infamous as disgraced former vice president Spiro Agnew.
“Not every decision [young voters make] will be great,” Williams said. “But that is no reason not to give them the right.”
Former council member Stuart Eisenberg implored lawmakers to consider one more step. “Ultimately,” he said, “I’d like you to add an amendment, if you do approve it, for a ‘Clean your room’ precondition before you grant the franchise.” Laughter erupted.