September 19, celebrated National Voter Registration Day, took an exciting twist in Maryland, where advocates argue for a lower voting age in local elections. While off-year elections typically draw less attention, the focus is on allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, a practice already permitted in some Maryland cities.
In November, Rockville will feature a nonbinding referendum allowing voters to express their opinions on lowering the voting age to 16. This comes as Alyssa Canty, director of youth programs for Common Cause, says younger citizens are beginning to see the impact of civic policies on their lives.
“When they’re 16- or 17-year-olds, they start their first part-time jobs,” Canty stated. “So they now have income, so they’re purchasing things, so they are paying sales tax, but they have no say in what happens to those tax dollars.”
In Maryland, state laws allow 16-year-olds to register to vote, although they can’t participate in state or federal elections until 18. However, Maryland law gives the green light for city councils to lower the voting age for local elections. Takoma Park, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, and Mount Rainier have taken this step to date. Somerset will allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections starting next May.
Canty believes late high school is a prime time to involve youngsters in voting. “Usually around 16, 17 years old, that junior, senior year of high school, that’s also when you take your in-depth civics class, and you learn how the government works,” she explained. “It’s almost like experimental learning where you get to go and cast a ballot.”
Campaigns advocating for lowering the voting age are catching fire nationwide, often led by the youth. “We have seen where this issue energizes young people,” Canty noted. “In many places, they’re the ones that are on the forefront leading this work because they see themselves as being really impacted by local elections, their school boards, and their city councils.”
For those interested in learning more about the national movement to lower the voting age, more information can be found at Vote16USA.org.
The argument for lowering the voting age comes amid ongoing discussions about civic engagement and voter turnout, particularly among younger generations. With five cities in Maryland leading the way and a nonbinding referendum set for Rockville in November, the debate on youth voting rights continues to grow at the state and national levels.