Group advocating for lowering voting age to 16 for local elections
TAKOMA PARK, Md. — Conlan Marks has lived and worked in the same town his entire life, and he still can’t get enough. “I love Takoma Park,” he said.
Marks said his deep sense of community comes largely from when he voted at the age of 16 in the Takoma Park, Maryland, municipal elections.
“We live in a very small town. You have a lot of power with your vote,” he said.
About a decade ago, Takoma Park became the first American city to lower the voting age to 16 for all city elections. As of today, the Maryland towns of Hyattsville, Greenbelt, Riverdale and Mount Rainier have followed suit.
“Young people want to have a say on the issues that affect them,” Andrew Wilkes said.
He’s leading the national push for Vote 16 USA, which advocates lowering the voting age in local elections. Wilkes said for school board elections only, voters have already decided to drop the age in Oakland and Berkeley, California. The issue is officially on the ballot in Culver City, California, this November and Vote 16 USA plans to campaign in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“When cities that have that kind of disproportionate influence elect to lower the voting age, I think we’ll begin to see something like a domino effect,” Wilkes said.
“The younger generation is very activist-oriented,” political analyst Susan MacManus said.
She predicts if the idea of voting in local elections at the age of 16 builds in U.S. cities coast to coast, that could result in deeper engagement in state and national politics.
“If parties felt like 16 year olds would turn out to be regular voters instead of casual, sometimes vote and sometimes not, that would be of great interest to both parties because the biggest trend in politics is that younger people are turning their backs on parties and registering as no party affiliation,” MacManus said.
Marks said he’s voted in every Takoma Park election since he cast his first vote at 16. He’s eager to see how young people turn out to elect Takoma Park’s next mayor and city council in November.
“I’m still thinking about who to vote for,” Faith Smith said.
At 17 years old, she’ll vote for the first time in the Takoma Park municipal elections in the fall. She’s excited to study the candidates and be an example for her generation.
“We’re very optimistic. We’re very hopeful, and I think that optimism is what drives us to make that change,” she said.
The City of Takoma Park said 12,188 people are registered to vote, and 191 are 16 or 17 years old. For municipal elections in 2020, voter turnout for that younger group was 69%, which is higher than the overall voter turnout of 54%.