Sitting around a table at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, a group of five Takoma Park students discussed their potential political fate.
The issue of debate? Teenage suffrage.
The Takoma Park City Council has a city charter amendment on the table that would lower the current voting age of 18 and allow 16- and 17-year olds to vote in the city’s elections.
The council passed on April 15 the first reading of a resolution that included the amendment, among others relating to the city’s voting and elections laws.
The amendment would go into effect after the resolution passes a second reading.
In a recent city council public hearing, young residents — including Montgomery Blair students — voiced their interest in and readiness for the right to vote. A few older residents opposed the lower voting age, saying the youngsters weren’t ready for the responsibility and lacked the experience adulthood grants.
At the high school on Friday, the students — who Montgomery Blair High School selected for an interview — chimed in their thoughts on the possibility of playing a part in the political process.
Four out of the five students — who ranged from 15 to 18 years old and attend the public high school that serves Takoma Park — said they supported the amendment and the opportunity it would provide. One student said she thought the voting age should stay at 18, when teenagers are transitioning to adulthood.
Blossom Jiang, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she heard about the amendment only moments before the discussion. She said she didn’t think any of her friends would vote if they had the right because they aren’t interested in politics.
However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the option, she said.
“I think people should be given the chance,” she said. “Then, it’s their right to exercise it or not.”
Daniel Leventhal, an 18-year-old senior, said he heard about the amendment from his dad — Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal — and that his opinion on it had been set as he sat at the table.
“I think by then [at age 16], you’re developed enough to make a wise decision,” Leventhal said, adding that he thinks he would have voted at 16 if he’d had the opportunity.
Those who choose not to vote come in all ages, he said.
“There are plenty of adults who, they just don’t vote at all. They don’t care. And that’s their choice,” he said.
For senior Mimi Verdonk, 18, the proposal is “not a good idea.”
“I feel like at 16, you really don’t have very many rights,” Verdonk said. “I feel like 18 is the perfect age ’cause you’re getting a lot of rights at that time and you’re becoming a truly full adult.”
Verdonk said she thinks there a fair amount of 16- and 17-year-olds are involved and interested in politics, but younger teens are easily influenced by their parents.
“At the age of 18, you’re kind of getting ready to make your own life, go to college and you’re kind of just growing up, so the opinions that you might express while voting are going to be more of your own instead of just a reflection of your parents’,” she said.
Tommy Raskin — an 18-year-old senior and son of state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) — said he thinks that if 16- and 17-years-olds had voting as a way to express their beliefs, they would inform themselves on political issues and “be thrilled by the opportunity.”
“We cultivate interest in democracy by giving people opportunities to participate,” Raskin said. “It’s a poor argument to say that we ought not to give 16-year-olds the right to vote because they’re not interested in issues.”
Raskin, a member of the high school’s Young Democrats group, said he was aware of the concern that the city’s teenagers from low-income families wouldn’t take advantage of the right, potentially giving more voting power to the higher-income residents.
The city should give the teens the right to vote, he said, and “then leave it to us to organize amongst ourselves and allow everyone to capitalize on the opportunity.”
Sixteen-year-old sophomore Ben Miller said he sees the value of granting someone the right to vote while he or she is still living in the city and could potentially see the effects of a vote.
“In theory, you would want to see your vote come out in your life and that’s not gonna happen if you’re at college,” Miller said.
He said that if he had to pick a side on the issue, he would support the amendment, but doesn’t see it making a big difference.
Miller said neither he nor his friends are currently interested in any specific city issues, but he thinks the city’s teens would learn about the issues if they could vote.
“I think people would vote if they had the chance and I don’t think they would irresponsibly vote,” he said. “They would force themselves to learn about the issues.”