When Takoma Park’s next Election Day arrives in November, the lines of voters ready to cast their ballots for the City Council will include a new set of voters making history.
During its Monday meeting, the Takoma Park City Council passed a series of city charter amendments regarding its voting and election laws, including one allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in city elections.
The other adopted charter changes include those allowing felons who have served their sentence of incarceration to vote and same-day voter registration.
With Monday’s vote, Takoma Park became the first city in the United States to lower its voting age — which was previously 18 — to 16.
The voting age amendment brought out young residents to an April 8 public hearing where they cited their readiness and eagerness to participate in the city’s elections.
Other residents argued, however, that the teenagers lacked the maturity and experience to handle the responsibility and that they would be easily influenced by their parents.
Before he voted in support of the charter amendments, Mayor Bruce Williams said that, while he originally had not been convinced the change was a good one, he agreed with the argument that lowering the voting age could help residents establish a lifelong habit of voting.
Councilman Seth Grimes said that, after hearing and soliciting city residents’ opinions, he was not convinced by the arguments some presented that the young residents lacked maturity and that parents might influence their children’s political decisions.
“I just don’t buy it, and I don’t buy that we should be motivated by fear of the downside,” Grimes said.
For Councilman Tim Male, who initiated the council’s voting age discussion, the amendment “is a great step forward” in a set of important charter changes.
“We have many 16- and 17-year-olds in our community who care deeply about this place” and are deeply engaged in politics, Male said.
Councilman Fred Schultz — who later gave the only opposing vote to the amendments — proposed a motion during the meeting that the charter amendments be put to referendum during the city’s November election.
“The charter we have today is something that has evolved over scores and scores of years, and it’s not something to be tampered with lightly,” Schultz said, adding that the decision was important enough to let city residents decide.
Though the mayor supported the motion, it failed to pass the council.
“I think that many of the decisions that we make are extremely important,” Councilman Terry Seamens said. “The people we represent certainly let us know throughout whether we’re doing what they wish or not, and I think the same case can be true this time.”
The motion, however, prompted comment from several residents.
City resident Catherine Tunis said she thought the charter amendments marked a decision that was too big for only seven people to decide.
“People generally agree that this is a large enough question that it should be going to referendum,” she said, adding that she knew of at least 30 people who signed a referendum petition.
A young resident who identified herself as a Montgomery Blair High School student said the city’s petition process is sufficient.
“With all due respect to Councilmember Schultz, I believe that the people of Takoma Park have had the opportunity to have their voices heard on this issue,” she said.
Other Montgomery Blair students recently said during an interview with the Gazette that they wanted to see 16- and 17-year-olds given the opportunity to vote.
Tommy Raskin, a senior at Montgomery Blair and son of state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-District 20), said during the April 19 interview that he thought the city’s teenagers would rise to the occasion and become informed voters.
“We cultivate interest in democracy by giving people opportunities to participate,” he said.