An advisory referendum to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in municipal elections passed Tuesday night in Greenbelt, garnering about 53 percent of voter approval.
The measure still needs the council’s approval to become legislation. There is currently no scheduled date for the council to vote on the matter.
Greenbelt is the second city in the United States to pass a referendum on the issue, according to VOTE16USA, a national campaign that seeks to lower voting age at the local level.
The results on the city’s website show that 1,215 voters favored the advisory referendum and 1,070 opposed it.
For more than two years, Greenbelt’s Youth Advisory Committee championed the initiative to lower the municipal election voting age from 18 to 16.
In August, the Greenbelt City Council held a vote to pass the proposal through a charter amendment, but the council failed to reach the supermajority necessary for it to pass. The council then placed the proposal on the ballot as an advisory referendum, which does not bind it to pass as a piece of legislation.
Jeremy Tuthill, vice chair of the Youth Advisory Committee, said he was surprised and pleased to see the advisory referendum pass.
“The Youth Advisory Committee [was] working hard to get it passed, but we definitely knew we had our work cut out for us,” said Tuthill, a junior computer science major at the University of Maryland. He cited a community survey the committee issued in 2015, the results of which indicated 77 percent of respondents 18 and older opposed lowering the municipal election voting age to 16.
The committee worked to debunk the idea that 16- and 17-year-olds do not care about politics and lack the responsibility required to make educated choices at the voting booth, Tuthill said.
Since the council failed to pass the initiative as a charter amendment and put it to referendum, the Youth Advisory Committee has taken several measures to “get people talking about the idea and learning about the reasons why they should support it,” said Ema Smith, chair of the Youth Advisory Committee and a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
These measures included making and distributing brochures, talking to residents across the city and attending candidate forums and city council meetings, Smith said.
“Going door-to-door directly and showing people bright, nice faces helped fight the notion that 16- and 17-year-olds don’t care anyway by showing them we’re passionate and that we do care and want to have our voices heard,” Tuthill said. “The argument about responsibility doesn’t hold any water because there are a lot of people, of all age groups, who aren’t very responsible.”
Greenbelt Councilwoman Leta Mach, one of the three council members to vote in favor of passing the proposal as a charter amendment, said she was very excited to see citizens support the measure. Mach was re-elected Tuesday night.
“There are plenty of younger citizens who are civically engaged now because they’re the ones who brought this idea to council, so I think it will probably bring more involvement,” Mach said. “Hopefully some of these younger citizens will encourage their parents to get out and vote.”
The discussion of making these changes is “one of the first things the new council will do,” Mach added.
The Youth Advisory Committee will hold a forum to discuss concerns about the community, recruit members and raise awareness about the group in late November or early December, Smith said.