Kensington is considering amending its town charter to allow 16- and 17-year-old residents to vote in local elections.
Town council member Darin Bartram said the idea was proposed by Miles Carr, the son of state Del. Al Carr, a Democrat who represents Kensington.
Bartram said the five-member council is having preliminary discussions about whether to put the question before voters as a ballot measure, or amend the charter directly.
Kensington voters now must be 18, U.S. citizens and have lived within the town limits for at least 30 days.
“A lot of us are feeling like for a change like this, getting the views of the town would be useful,” he said. “There’s a variety of avenues to try to get to the result. And we’re trying to give everyone in town an equal opportunity to be heard.”
Bartram added he wants to make sure the town follows a consistent process for any substantive change made to the town charter.
“I for one, want anyone who comes up with an idea and brings it up to the council to feel like they are being treated equally and fairly as everyone else,” he said.
Bartram said Carr would likely need to get 20% of Kensington’s registered voters to sign petition to get the measure on the ballot, as would be the case with referendums that overturn ordinances. But the 20 % rule wouldn’t necessarily apply in this situation, he said.
“That will probably form a starting point, but if we decide, for example, to allow 16/17-year olds to count towards the 20%, that would expand the denominator some. But the council hasn’t decided this issue yet,” he said.
Bartram emphasized that there are still many fluid aspects to the process that have yet to be worked out. He said this would likely not occur in time for the council’s election this June, but would possibly be on the 2020 ballot.
Should the measure succeed, Kensington would join Takoma Park, Hyattsville, Greenbelt and Riverdale Park as the other jurisdictions in Maryland that allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. The District of Columbia has been considering lowering its voting age to 16.
Kensington’s mayor and town council members serve staggered two-year terms, with elections being held annually. The 16- and 17-year-olds would not be able to vote in presidential, congressional, state or county races, because those are held separately and are not under the town’s charter.
Carr, a junior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, wrote in an email that he has been attending town council meetings for the past year-and-a-half and plans to knock on residents’ doors in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the issue.
“My reasons for pushing for such a charter change is that teens deserve a voice in our government no matter if it’s on a local or national scale,” he wrote.
Carr, 16, attended last year’s March for Our Lives protest against gun violence and has been involved in the youth activist group MoCo Students for Change, which formed last year following a school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17. He said his friends are excited about the possible change and have asked how they can help.
“They told me they very much want youth voting to pass in Kensington so then I can move it to the countywide scale. We only have the power to elect student member [of the county board of education] which is amazing don’t get me wrong, but it’s just simply not enough. We need to be able to vote for our representatives that will define our futures,” he wrote.
His father agreed.
“The decisions that get made by local government affect young people, so they should have a say,” the state delegate said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org