Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why not have a referendum on lowering the voting age?


Former Takoma Park Mayor Ed Sharp asked, on the TakomaPark e-mail list:
Why not have a referendum on lowering the voting age?
My short answer is, I don't see a need, nor do more than a handful of voters.

I'll note that the state legislature enacted Same Day Registration during early voting, and considered Election Day Voter Registration, during this year's legislative session, empowered by their voter mandates, not by any groundswell of public opinion.

To elaborate on the local situation (for background, see the April 15, 2013 council agenda material):

There are 2 routes to a referendum in Takoma Park. The council may put an item on the ballot, and voters, by petition with signatures of at least 20% of voters, may request an item be put on the ballot. That latter threshold applies also for referendum consideration of a charter changed enacted by the city council.

The state threshold for a referendum on an Act is 3% and I believe Montgomery County's threshold is 5%.

The voters trust their council representatives to decide most issues, and I can't think of a single Ward 1 constituent who has asked that this item, lowering the voting age, be put to referendum. Apologies if I've forgotten a message sent me; but definitely there's been no clamour. This leaves me free to exercise my judgment on the question of a referendum, and like my constituents, I don't see a compelling need. I feel that this electoral change will have far less impact, and carry far less risk, than the 20 or so opponents perhaps foresee.

Evidently, other council members agree with me. Only 2 of 7 council votes favor putting the item to referendum. What about voters' voices? We all know that 20% is a high threshold. It would take a major effort to get 2,000+ signatures in short order. Can referendum proponents meet the state threshold, even though it doesn't apply to city matters, and collect 360 signatures of Takoma Park voters who ask that this item be put to referendum? (The 60 comes from a conservative, rounding-down guesstimate of the number of voters who are ready for the council to move forward without a referendum.)

Put the question, "Should Takoma Park hold a referendum on lowering the voting age, for city elections, to 16?" to petition. If at least 360 Takoma Park voters sign, by Monday, April 29, I will weigh the effort against other voices and consider advocating a referendum.

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