Following the lead of Takoma Park and Hyattsville, Greenbelt decided January 8 to lower its voting age from 18 to 16 years old for municipal elections, becoming the third municipality in the country to do so.
The measure to lower the voting age was first introduced to the city council August 2017, but was voted down because a few members of the council wanted residents to weigh in on the issue before making a decision. In the November election, residents approved a non-binding referendum to lower the voting age and the council’s vote January 8 made the measure official. The change is set to take effect February 27.
Chair of Greenbelt’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) Ema Smith expressed that the committee has been working towards this change for several years. This change is also in part due to the grassroots efforts of other groups such as the National Youth Rights Alliance (NYRA) and the Vote16USA campaign.
Expressing that forbidding 16-year-olds from voting is a form of age discrimination, both groups also worked to lower the voting age in Takoma Park in 2013 and for Hyattsville in 2015.
Supporters of lowering the voting age, aside from these groups, argue that since teens are active and contributing members of their communities as many drive, hold jobs, and even pay taxes they are also able to handle the responsibility of voting for the officials that affect their everyday lives.
At the center of the argument for why teens shouldn’t vote at 16 is that they are not yet mature enough or responsible enough to do so; in addition, opponents argue that teens are apathetic and, even if the voting age is lowered, they would still fail to get involved.
When lowering the voting age was first up for debate in 2013, former Takoma Park city councilman Seth Grimes, who is now running for Montgomery County Council, was not convinced by these arguments questioning teen’s maturity level. “I just don’t buy it,” he says. “I don’t buy that we should be motivated by fear of the downside.”
Former Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams also expressed disagreement with the notion that teens lack the maturity to handle the responsibility of voting. Before voting in support of the charter amendment in 2013, he expressed lowering the voting age would help teens establish a lifelong habit of voting.
Junior Katheryn Mendez, who turned 16-years-old in August after most of her peers, expressed lowering the voting age is a proactive way to get teens involved in politics from an early age. “I think we should all start getting involved at a young age because a lot of adults don’t vote and they’re letting [their voice] waste [which] has so much power,” she says. “Getting into that mentality at a young age is good.”