HYATTSVILLE – At 16-years old, citizens are legally allowed to operate a vehicle, but they may soon be able to cast their vote as well during municipal elections if some members of the city council have their way.
At its Dec. 1 meeting, the Hyattsville City Council discussed a proposed legislation to amend the city charter to reduce the minimum voting age in city elections from 18 to 16. All other voting requirements currently established for eligible voters in Hyattsville would still stand.
Shannon Weese, a Hyattsville resident, said she strongly favors including 16- and 17-year-olds in the voting process.
“They have opinions and views on the world that we adults rarely take seriously,” Weese said.
Another Hyattsville resident, who identified himself only as Marshall during the meeting, disagreed.
“I’m opposed to it and so is my family. It’s a monumentally bad idea,” he said.
Marshall said he believes “there is a time for everything” and which is why age requirements are set in place.
Several members of the city council spoke out in support of lowering the voting age.
“[There’s] absolutely no evidence that 16-year-olds lack the neurological ability to cast informed votes,” said Councilman Patrick A. Paschall
Council President Candace Hollingsworth agreed, saying she does not see the harm in including youth to participate in the voting process.
“The harm that I do see however is for us to have an argument about the mental capacity of 16-year-olds,” Hollingsworth said. “I think that does more harm than good to have a public decision as to whether 16- and 17-year-olds are smart enough or wise enough to make a decision about what they feel is their everyday lives.”
Council Member Tim Hunt said during his tenure the voting age has not been a pressing issue with residents when he has gone door knocking in the past. However, he said he does believe the voting age is a topic that should be decided on by the voters by referendum.
“When you’re talking about changing the body of the electorate I think that’s a decision that does belong in the hands of the electorate,” said Hunt.
Council Member Robert Croslin also supported putting the issue on the ballot as a referendum during the next city election in 2015.
“I’d like for everyone to have the opportunity to weigh in and if it’s out as a referendum then you have more participation,” Croslin said. “Even those folks who are not watching or paying attention, not even tuned in to what’s going on with the council, what’s going on with the city, they’ll still have an opportunity because they do go to vote.”
Mayor Marc Tartaro said the city will conduct a public hearing before making a final decision about putting a referendum question on the ballot.
“Since this is a very important issue, [we’ll] use everything that we can to make sure that at least everyone in the community at least has the opportunity to choose to come to a public hearing or not and they are at least aware that something is going on,” Tartaro said.
Residents can expect to receive text and email alerts, announcements in the Hyattsville Reporter, The Life & Times as well as on the city’s cable channel. Local high schools will also have flyers to remind students about the hearing.
“Getting individuals involved at younger ages would help establish a lifetime of civic engagement from which we all benefit for generations,” Weese said.
The council will conduct the public hearing on Jan. 5, and is expected to make a final decision about placing a question on the ballot during the meeting.