Are they ready? You can watch a video by a Rutgers University professor on the preparedness of 16-17 year olds in the context of voting. In a separate paper Professor Daniel Hart and his coauthor conclude that “To date, there is no neurological evidence that indicates that 16- and 17-year-olds lack the requisite neurological maturation necessary for citizenship or for responsible voting; nor is there evidence to indicate that a breadth of life experience is necessary for effective citizenship.” In Austria where 16-17 year olds have been voting since 2005 in city elections and 2007 in federal ones, this factsheet summarizes the conclusions of research about the preparedness and maturity of those voters. For more depth about Austria, this study goes deeper into measures of voter ‘quality’ and concludes that 16-17 year olds are very similar to, or in some cases more competent voters than 18 year olds. In Austria, researchers also found some evidence that 16-17 year olds became even more engaged in civics after they were given the right to vote. They found that schools and parents were both very influential on turnout and preparedness (suggesting that Montgomery County’s mandatory government class is valuable).
Local elections versus national ones. In Maryland we have allowed 17 year olds to vote for President, Governor, Senators, Representative and state positions for years during the primary process.
Will teens show up? Turnout is low among young voters if you define young as up to about 30. But there is growing evidence in the U.S. and abroad that very young voters actually have high turnout and its voters in their 20s that are the least likely to vote. In Austria, Denmark and Norway election officials have found that turnout is fairly high in 16-17 year olds. Research from Denmark suggests that the youngest voters may be very high turnout voters because they are influenced by being around people who also vote (i.e. family). They found that above 18, voting rates drop off precipitously and that not until early 30s to rates of voting again start approaching those of the very youngest voters. In Lubbock, Texas, 18 year olds also vote at higher rates than older voters. I asked Dr. Kasper Hansen of the University of Copenhagen what he thought about 16-17 year old voters' likely turnout and he said, "I would expect that 16 year olds would actually vote slightly more than 18 year olds."
Done before? It’s true that the U.S. has little experience with 16-17 year old voting, but Germany, Scotland, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Austria, and Norway have all adopted 16 year old voting ages in some or all federal or state elections. Together those democracies have a population of about 350 million –about the same size as the U.S.
Existing rights. In the U.S., efforts have been made or are underway to give 16 and 17 year olds voting rights in California, Minnesota and Massachusetts. Already more than a dozen states, including Maryland, allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries for their highest offices if they will be 18 by the general election. Voter approved that change by landslide margins when voting to change state constitutions in Vermont in 2010 and Connecticut in 2008, Given that Maryland law already allows 16-year-old to register to vote, Takoma Park would easily be able to administer this change.