- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — Some of Baltimore’s 16-year-olds will be eligible to vote in the city’s primary in September, an anomaly in election history, officials said.

The 14-month gap between the Sept. 9 primary and next year’s general election created the situation, which city and state officials had not anticipated when they recently failed to negotiate a new primary date.

Under election laws, residents are eligible to vote in this September’s primary as long as they turn 17 by Nov. 2, which would make them 18 by Nov. 2, 2004, the date of the next general election.

“I don’t know of any other jurisdiction where 16-year-olds have had the right to vote — ever,” said Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

The situation dates to 1999, when city voters approved a referendum that moved local elections to a presidential year, 2004. That gave the mayor and city elected officials five-year terms instead of the usual four.

But only the General Assembly can change primary dates. City officials lobbied state legislators to move the primary to March or September of next year. The General Assembly, however, ended its session in April without making a decision, leaving the city in its quandary.

The possibility that 16-year-olds could vote never entered the debate, and city officials have only recently become aware of it.

“I’ve never seen 16-year-olds allowed to vote,” said Barbara Jackson, director of the city’s Board of Elections for 15 years. “This is the first time.”

“I didn’t realize that,” City Council President Sheila Dixon said of the situation.

“Really?” said a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O’Malley.

“What an embarrassment,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat.

The city has about 9,500 16-year-old residents, according to the 2000 Census. Only two under the age of 18 have registered to vote. Both will be 17 by the primary.

Most primaries occur three to six months before general elections. A 14-month lag affords 16-year-olds in Baltimore an opportunity that many of their peers in other states have been fighting to achieve.

Last month, voters in Anchorage, Alaska, defeated a referendum that would have reduced the voting age to 16. Similar efforts have emerged in Cambridge, Mass., and in Florida, where a teen is leading an online charge to amend the state’s constitution.

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