One of the recommendations outlined in “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement,” the report from our Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, is to experiment with lowering the voting age to 17 in municipal or state elections. The potential advantages are manifold: young people can register in schools, be encouraged to vote by teachers, and have valuable, moderated discussions about the issues in their civics or government class. The report is careful to note that we do not yet know the full effect of lower the voting age; it is a reform idea that requires testing.
Recently, the city of Takoma Park, Maryland, made just such a change to their voting regulations; and, last week, its 16 and 17-year-old residents became the first in the nation to cast a municipal ballot on Election Day.
The results, while modest, seem to support the notion that young people are interested and engage in the political life of their community. A total of 59 under-18 Takoma Park residents who are 16 or 17 voted in the November 5 election, and a significant number of them took advantage of same-day registration—another recommendation from our Commission report.
Those 59 residents make up 16.9 percent of eligible voters in that age group, which is nearly double the 8.5 percent turnout rate of eligible voters 18 and up. It also is about 42.1 percent of registered voters in that age group, which is more than four times the turnout rate (10.2 percent) among registered voters 18 and up.
Rob Richie, executive director of Takoma Park-based FairVote, believes that the effect of allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote reverberate beyond just this particular election and help more broadly increase youth turnout. “The very lowest rates of participation are for residents in their 20s, particularly because their communities did little to introduce them to the realities of local government and civics before they left home,” he said. “I think it’s highly likely that a disproportionate number of these new voters will continue to vote—we’ll see as soon as the primary in next June.”
Read more about the Takoma Park election from FairVote.