If the measure passes in November, the town of Golden, Colorado may join a handful of cities that allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. The idea is part of a growing conversation to lower the voting age for state and federal elections as well.
Brandon Klugman works for a national campaign called Vote16USA. He says one of the biggest benefits to lowering the voting age is to get more people to participate in democracy.
“Research does show that voting is a habit and 16 is a better time than 18 to establish that habit,” says Klugman. “By allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in our local elections, we can help them build that habit and then become lifelong voters, leading to an increase in voter turnout and an increase in civic engagement in the long run.”
He says four cities in Maryland already allow people as young as 16 to vote in local elections. In addition to Golden, Colorado, Washington, D.C. is also considering giving younger teens the vote on municipal issues. Teens in Berkeley, California will soon be able to vote in school board elections.
“We think that if this were to pass in Golden, it would really send a strong signal across the country that this is a good idea, it’s an idea whose time has come, and it’s a serious policy idea that is part of the bold solutions that we need to strengthen our democracy,” he says.
Klugman is working on getting the issue on the ballot in 2019 or 2020 in Boulder, Colorado, too.
In 2013, Takoma Park, Maryland, became the first U.S. city where 16-year-olds could cast a vote.
“We support anything that’s going to encourage voting. We want to see more and more Americans vote,” says Brian Miller, who directs the nonpartisan group Nonprofit VOTE. “Whether that happens at 16, 17, 18 or 19 I think we can have debate about. But the point is to start people early. This is certainly a way that some cities have been doing and from the early experiments in Takoma Park, it seems to be working very, very well.”
Miller says high school is an important opportunity to engage people, whether or not they can actually vote at that age. Colorado and Utah are among 13 states that allow 16-year-olds to register to vote, though that registration isn’t activated until they turn 18.
“A lot of folks don’t go to college, so they’re not going to run into all the voter registration opportunities they might have at a college or university. They’re going straight into the workforce and no one may ever approach them to say, ‘Hey, are you registered to vote?’” he says. “It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t start engaging 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote prior to their eligibility.”
About 50 years ago, the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.