Fairfax considers lowering voting age to 16

Caleigh Stephens

Fairfax considered lowering the voting age to 16 on local municipal ballot measures during a City Council meeting that took place in early February.

On Feb. 4, the Council voted unanimously in favor of creating a subcommittee whose purpose, according to their memorandum, is to “initiate a community conversation” on the expansion of the voting age range.

Fairfaxweb
Sophomore Caityln Reed and her sister hang out in Fairfax, where the voting age is proposed to be lowered to 16 years

The subcommittee is headed by councilman David Weinsoff and Vice Mayor Renee Goddard. It was designed to coordinate and oversee the process of lowering the voting age, as well as to research the financial and legal implications of the possible change.

“Extending the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds honors young people’s desires to have their voices heard and participate in local decision-making, and it provides the opportunity for educators to incorporate into their curriculum the issues at the center of our local governance,” wrote Weinsoff and Goddard in a memorandum to the Fairfax City Council.

Weinsoff and Goddard targeted the 2017 election as their goal for the change.

“The future of our community will shortly be in [teenagers’] hands and to bring their voice into that conversation now will better ensure they become aware of and are actively engaged in the public safety, financial, and social challenges facing our local community,” they wrote.

Two Washington, D.C. suburbs are currently the only places in the United States where 16-year-olds have a right to vote on local measures, according to the Verified Voting Foundation.

A recent Bark survey found that 23 percent of students believe the voting age for local measures should be lowered to 16.

However, 60 percent answered that they would vote on local measures, given the chance.

“Teenagers should understand what is going on and be involved, but they shouldn’t have the right to vote,” said Tamiscal junior and Fairfax resident Shannon Madsen. “Sixteen is pretty young to make a responsible decision.”

Another Fairfax native, 16-year-old Kora Burchard, said she believes that teenagers are not too young to vote.

“[Teenagers] have the necessary skills and responsibility to make major decisions for ourselves at age 16,” Burchard said.

Burchard believes that a change in voting age could increase awareness of local government and current issues for teenagers and bring about an influx of new opinions.

“Our generation can become a little bit more knowledgable about what’s going on,” Burchard said. “It’s important for teenagers and kids to be aware of what’s happening in our community and government.”

Both Burchard and Madsen expressed doubts that a large percentage of 16- and 17-year-olds would turn out to vote. “If younger age voters realize that local issues affect them, then they will turn out to vote,” said Redwood social studies teacher Lisa Kemp.

According to Kemp, if the voting age was lowered, younger voters would seek out information on measures.

“If [teenagers] were given that opportunity they would make themselves educated, just like anyone else,” Kemp said.