- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Hundreds of 16-year-olds in Baltimore have registered to vote in next month’s primary, an anomaly that could influence the city election.

Barbara E. Jackson, Baltimore’s elections administrator, said 485 of roughly 700 eligible 16-year-olds had registered by Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the 9 p.m. deadline.

Among those already registered, 418 identified themselves as Democrats, 26 as Republicans, 28 unaffiliated, nine as Green Party supporters and four as “others,” Miss Jackson said.

The city is allowing residents as young as 16 to vote because they will be 18 by the Nov. 2, 2004, general election.

The 14-month gap between the primary and the general election exists because Baltimore residents voted in a 1999 referendum to make their elections coincide with the general elections in even-numbered years.

“The law states that as long as you are 18 years old [by the general election] then you are eligible to register to vote,” Miss Jackson said.

She said 1,196 of eligible 17-year-olds also had registered by Tuesday afternoon. Among them, 994 registered as Democrats, 79 as Republicans, 103 as unaffiliated, 10 as Green Party supporters and 10 as others. The final numbers are expected by Saturday.

The Sept. 9 election will help determine Baltimore’s mayor, comptroller, city council and council president and other offices.

Though the 1,681voters who are 16 and 17 is a small percentage of the city’s voters, the number could be enough to change the outcome of an election.

City officials said that in a 1995 city council election, John L. Cain defeated Charles J. Krysiak by just eight votes. And in 1979, Kweisi Mfume, now president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was elected to the city council by three votes.

Candidates in this year’s primary said they are taking the younger vote seriously.

“My office is working with a number of youth groups,” said Council President Sheila Dixon, a Democrat. “While we are out, we are also explaining the importance.”

Council member Nicholas C. D’Adamo, a Democrat, said he plans to visit schools.

“Sometimes you can learn a lot from someone 16,” he said.

Council member Kenneth N. Harris Sr., a Democrat, said he is focusing on churches.

“I have a youth ambassador group that is educating 16-year-olds about voting,” he said. “My daughter, Nicole, who is a freshman in college, is also helping me to communicate with younger people.”

There are 14 council members and one council president, who are all running for re-election.

Mayor Martin J. O’Malley is courting the younger vote the same way he does other voters: by walking in neighborhoods, putting up yard signs and making calls.

“This is an opportunity to educate these youth on the importance of the democratic process and voting,” Mr. O’Malley said. “I hope that they take advantage of this opportunity to let their voices be heard.”

Right now, Baltimore is the only U.S. city that allows 16-year-olds to vote, said Rashad A. Robinson, a director with the Center for Voting and Democracy, a think tank that studies voting trends.

However, he said 17-year-olds are allowed to vote in parts of Massachusetts.

“What is taking place in Baltimore is an anomaly,” Mr. Robinson said. “I think this will give young people an opportunity to put the things they learn in school into practice.”

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