Right to Vote. In Bush v. Gore in 2000 Justice Scalia stated that ‘the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote’ but most Americans I know believe that voting is a right and responsibility we have in all levels of our democracy. Creating a framework over all the city changes being proposed, I support a resolution (pg. 29 here) that calls for all elected officials to support actions that increase voter turnout and participation, and to support efforts to even the playing field of elections in ways that reduce level the playing field among candidates for office. This part of the proposal is directed at changes that our state (or federal) elected officials could make.
Same Day Registration. Same Day or Election Day registration is a common sense change that removes a barrier to participation. It is in place across the country and in 2012 turnout in states with day of registration was 12 points higher than states without it. This change would mean that if you move, forget to register, only recently become eligible to vote, or just recently got interested in city elections, you can still represent your interests at the polls by showing up and registering at any time before voting.
Apartment Buildings. Turnout from apartment buildings in the city is probably much lower than from single family housing. We are discussing changes in the landlord-chapter of the city code to require landlords to allow some access to buildings by city-certified candidates for office and requirements that information about elections be posted in common space in apartment buildings. Maryland state law already requires apartment buildings in Montgomery County to have a public area where election materials are readily accessible to residents.
Voting Age. Changing the voting age would put Takoma Park at the forefront of a growing effort around the world to give voting rights to 16-17 year olds. Federal or state voting age has already been changed in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Scotland and Austria and proposals being considered at the state or local level in California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. Studies show that experience voting early in life helps build lifelong voting habits. Maryland law has long allowed for 17 year olds to vote for their party’s choice for President and Governor and newly allows 16-17 year olds to file voter registration paperwork. I support this Takoma Park proposal which would allow those who register at 16-17 to vote in municipal elections. Here are some letters and quotes from others about our legislative proposal.
Welcome Package. Another change under discussion is direction to the city to work with local businesses and provide a ‘welcome package’ to the city for all new residents that could provide lots of helpful information, including about voting and elections.
Task Force on Voting. The creation of a temporary Task Force on Voting (page 28 here) is meant to keep up momentum on issues of elections and participation. The Task Force would evaluate and make recommendations on other practical changes in city laws, regulations or practices that would improve participation and better uphold voting rights.
Voting Rights for People with Felony Convictions. Many nations and some states allow all citizens of voting age, including those who are incarcerated, to exercise their right to vote. Maryland in recent years has extended voting rights to more people with felony convictions, but Takoma Park can go further and provide voting rights for any city resident who has served their time and is no longer incarcerated. This site describes the states providing voting rights upon release from prison (even if still under parole). Maine and Vermont allow citizens with felony convictions to maintain voting rights, even from prison. Maryland’s approach is described here.
I will close as I opened, by saying that none of these changes are probably going to make a dramatic difference in election turnout or participation – just a significant, positive difference. A difference that will give more residents more ways to make their voices heard on city issues. Contested elections and focus on important issues that matter in people’s lives are probably most important to really get people more people more deeply involved. Thus, its my hope that we can move to adopt these changes relatively quickly and continue to make adjustments that make elections better in the future, while focusing the bulk of Council’s time and residents attention on crime and environment, development and improving quality of life for all in Takoma Park.