Statement in support of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Hyattsville elections (v. 2.0)

In front of the City Council Meeting; City Building, 4310 Gallatin Street

Good evening. My name is Shannon Wyss. I’m a homeowner in Ward 4 and would like to speak strongly in favor of extending the vote to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds and of doing so without a referendum.

I won’t restate all the convincing research supporting youth voting rights. Council Member Paschall and others have already cited such studies. Instead, i’ll focus on a few other points.

First, i want to caution against infantilizing teenagers. It is both disrespectful and not backed up by research. And for those who believe that youth already “have a vote” because they can lobby their parents, please remember that that same argument was made against the franchise for white women 100 years ago with respect to their husbands. That argument was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

We adults would do well to remember that we don’t have a great track record ourselves. Adults can make decisions about what or whom to support at the polls based upon any number of ill-informed factors:

  • how many yard signs we see,
  • because we believe those truth-defying campaign ads,
  • because our religious leaders told us to support a certain person or issue, or
  • who has the easiest-to-pronounce name.

And yet no one is talking about taking away our right to vote. Surely teenagers cannot do any worse than many of us! Indeed,with their idealism, teens may make more informed and more passionate choices than many of their elders.

Additionally, youth use a plethora of city services. They drive, bike on, and walk along our streets. They feed parking meters. They call the Hyattsville Police Department. Their lives are impacted by council and mayoral action. Shouldn’t they have a say in how their tax dollars are used – dollars that they add to the city’s coffers every time they spend money here?

In addition to acknowledging their maturity, here is a reason to extend the vote to sixteen-year-olds and not those who are younger: the right to drive. If we allow sixteen-year-olds to get behind the wheel of a deadly weapon on a daily or even hourly basis, surely we can allow them to vote in city elections once or twice a year, an action where no one risks injury and that will only benefit our great city.

Finally, i urge the Council to have an up-or-down vote on this issue and not send it to a referendum. As part of the LGBTQ community, I am painfully aware that putting people’s civil rights to a popular vote is inherently problematic, especially if that group is a relatively powerless minority.

Our democracy will only benefit from giving the franchise to sixteen- and seventeen year olds. I welcome the voices of our youth at the polls.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.