- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

BALTIMORE — A city lawmaker says she will help 16-year-olds secure the right to vote, a plan that would make the teens the youngest voters in the nation and increase the number of registered voters in the Democratic Party.

Council President Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, made the promise as part of her re-election campaign for the Sept. 9 primary, in a city that already has an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters and has not elected a Republican mayor since1967.

“This allows us a foundation to build on,” she said.

The city already is allowing residents as young as 16 to vote in the September primary because many will be 18 by the Nov. 2, 2004, general election.

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

However, the state legislature did not move the primary so it would fall within the normal three- to-six-month period before the general election.

Barbara E. Jackson, Baltimore’s elections administrator, released a final report yesterday showing the number of 16-year-olds who registered was 855, including 735 Democrats and 45 Republicans.

The most recent census data showed that the number of eligible 16-year-olds was 9,137.

The number of 17-year-olds who registered was 1,566 — including 1,311 Democrats and 97 Republicans.

“It is a little high but not anything drastic,” Miss Jackson said. “We generally have about 1,100 to 1,200.”

Because the city has so many Democrats, the primary likely will determine such key elected positions as mayor, council seats, council president and comptroller.

Miss Dixon said she is excited about the vigor that the teens could bring to politics.

“More and more young people have stepped up to the plate and want to get involved,” she said. “And I think we should give them that opportunity.”

Council member Melvin L. Stukes agreed.

“I just think that, in general, we need to have voter education much earlier,” he said.

Donald R. Farber, chairman of the Baltimore City Republican Committee, said the influence of the younger voters could reach as far as Annapolis.

“We feel that this is an advantage for the Democrats, especially considering the fact that the mayor will probably run for governor,” he said.

Still, John M. Kane, Maryland Republican Party chairman, said he is not concerned.

“They may vote for Democrats now, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to vote against President Bush or Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.],” he said. “I think once you educate the voters on what the Republicans stand for … they will be interested in the educational opportunities, which are at the forefront of the Bush and Ehrlich program.”

To permanently change the voting age from 18 to 16, Mrs. Dixon would have to convince state lawmakers, said Tracy Agnew, voter-registration coordinator for the Maryland State Board of Elections.

However, Mrs. Dixon is not alone in her quest.

Miranda Rosenberg, a student in Palm Beach, Fla., and founder of www.voteat16.com, is trying to lower the state’s voting age to 16 from 18. In Massachusetts, some 17-year-olds have been extended the right to vote.

The last time the voting age became a national issue was in 1971, when the 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, lowering the age from 21 to 18.

Voting age also has been a hot international topic, with Germany several years ago lowering the age to 16.

Rashad A. Robinson, a director at the Center for Voting and Democracy, a think tank that studies trends in voting, said oppressed or underrepresented groups seeking to vote do so with enthusiasm at first, but generally taper off in the end.

“Generally the voter turnout rate rises among young people,” he said. “But if you look at the Voter Rights Act, in 1965 African-Americans initially turned out in relatively high numbers. However, there has been a decline since then.”

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