Council discusses voting age, may look to voters; public hearing scheduled for Jan. 5

December 2, 2014

Hyattsville City Building. Photo courtesy Rebecca Bennett.

BY REBECCA BENNETT — At the Dec. 1 Hyattsville City Council meeting, councilmembers continued a discussion on whether or not the city should lower the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

The amendment’s sponsor, Councilmember Patrick Pascall (Ward 3), made several arguments in favor of lowering the city’s voting age. “I think we should be listening to the residents who are driving cars on our streets when we have jurisdiction over roads. Who are victims of crime, just like 18 and older folks, and accessing police services.”

Paschall also provided information to the council as to voter turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds in some other jurisdictions, as well as studies on the ability of youth to make quality decisions.

“[The 2012 Austrian study] found that their 16 and 17-year-olds were casting level of competence votes similar to 18-year-olds, and in some cases, more competent,” Paschall said.

Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2) said, “[There are] 16-year-olds in our community who [are] capable of engaging in this process with as much seriousness and thoughtfulness as any of us would have hoped for.”

“Unlike many of the concerns we talk about that have an impact for a year or a week, this is really a transformation of our culture,” Warner said.

Councilmember Robert Croslin (Ward 2) said he wanted the issue added as a referendum on an upcoming ballot. “I want for everyone to have the opportunity to weigh in,” he said, citing concern with the level of participating at public hearings.

“When you are talking about changing the body of the electorate, I think that is a decision that does belong in the hands of the electorate,” Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3) said in favor of a voting age referendum.

Council President Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) said she supports lowering the voting age, but doesn’t see the harm in putting it on the ballot.

Discussion from Dec. 1 council meeting. Click here for full meeting, including public comments and action/consent agendas.

Several residents addressed the topic during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

“Students said to me, What difference does it make if we understand this stuff, we can’t even vote?” said Bill Bystricky, a former high school government teacher. “Of course, I knew that a few years later, the same individuals would be saying, Why should I vote, when I can’t really understand this stuff?

“Getting them involved at younger ages will help establish a lifetime of civic engagement,” resident Shannon Wyss said in a statement in support of lowering the voting age, which was read by Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4).

“For those who are concerned teenagers are too immature to vote, I would like to pose that we adults don’t exactly have a great track record,” Wyss wrote, arguing that some adults use campaign signs, ads, and party affiliation to make decisions at the polls. “Surely, a teenager cannot do any worse than that.”

A 37th Avenue resident said he supported the measure being added to the ballot, though he was opposed to it. “I think 16 and 17-year-olds are already a part of the process. They can lobby their parents.  They do that, and they do it quite well.”

Mayor Marc Tartaro confirmed with City Clerk Laura Reams that the council must decide to put the referendum on the ballot at least 120 days before the upcoming May election.  This means, it would take eight councilmembers to vote to pass a referendum resolution by the Jan. 5 council meeting.

The council scheduled a public hearing on this topic for Jan. 5 at 7:45 p.m. at the Hyattsville Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street.