Takoma Park, Maryland has taken a bold step by expanding voting to a younger group than anywhere else in the United States, allowing voting in civic elections from the age of 16.
Takoma Park’s changes were supported and led by young residents. According to the Washington Post, “Tommy Raskin, a senior at Montgomery Blair and son of state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-District 20), said during the April 19 interview that he thought the city’s teenagers would rise to the occasion and become informed voters. ‘We cultivate interest in democracy by giving people opportunities to participate,’ he said.” In addition to expanding voting to younger residents, the legislation enfranchised felons who had served their time and instated election-day voter registration.
Takoma Park is the only city in the US to grant those 16 and over the right to vote — so far. The city’s changes represent the first victory in a national movement aimed at expanding youth voting rights. As the Washington Times reported, “‘This is, in legislation terms, the first real big step,’ said Jeffrey Nadel, president of the D.C.-based National Youth Rights Association, which lobbied for the legislation in Takoma Park. ‘We’re excited that this will be the spark that lights the fuse for change across the country.’” In Massachusetts this week, members of the movement also spoke at the State House in favor of granting 17-year-olds the right to vote.
The teens that drove this legislation forward in Takoma Park may be symbolic of a larger national trend towards greater political engagement among millennials. As more youths become involved in movements driven by online social tools, will Takoma Park be called a trailblazer for expanding access to the political process? Or, will it be remembered as a failed experiment? Either way, young residents of this small town have already reshaped their political landscape.