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Why We’re Winning in Takoma Park

Written by Bill Bystricky May 11, 2013

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Update 5/13/13: We did it!

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Takoma Park, MD is poised to become the first city in America to let 16-year-olds vote. To make such a change, the city council must go through three public ceremonies. First, a public hearing where members of the public give their views on the proposal. Second, a vote of the city council. Finally, a second vote of the city council at a later date to affirm they really meant it.

Monday, April 8, 2013, Takoma Park held its public hearing. Young people turned out in droves, and the overwhelming majority of people at the hearing voiced support for a lower voting age. (Video of hearing)

The following Monday, April 15, the city council had its first vote: 6 to 1 in favor of lowering the voting age!

Why is this city council so supportive of an idea that has yet to pass anywhere else in the US? Partly, it is because of the outstanding leadership of council members like Tim Male and Seth Grimes who knew this was right and were willing to risk their popularity for the good of their city. But this progress is also happening because of the activism of young people such as those who spoke at the public hearing.

Do politicians listen to teenagers? Sometimes they do. And at the April 15 city council meeting, council members Kay Daniels-Cohen and Terry Seamens both admitted they had initially opposed this idea, thinking 16-year-olds unfit for voting, but when they heard the articulate 16-year-olds in their public hearing, they could no longer cling to their stereotypes. As Daniels-Cohen told the youth in attendance, “You made a difference to me last week.”

Some like to believe that youth are apathetic, but Council Member Tim Male pointed out that roughly 15% of all Takoma Park residents aged 16-17 had attended the April 8 hearing. If the same percentage of adults in that city ever attended a city council meeting, he noted, there would not be nearly enough seats for them.

The second and final vote is expected to occur Monday May 15. If no council-member flip-flops, the proposal should become effective this summer.

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