GRANOLAPARK: Darts in the dark

Takoma Park teens speak in support of lowering the voting age.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

Giving 16 -17 year olds the vote is just one of a proposed set of voting reforms before the Takoma Park city council.

Two of the reforms require a city charter change. Charter changes require the council to follow a strict schedule and protocol. The other two reforms could be done more simply by passing a new city ordinance.

One charter change would lower the voting age. The other would allow election-day voter registration – called “same-day registration.”

The third proposal, which can be passed as a city ordinance without making a charter change, would make landlords open their buildings to council candidates. Currently, large apartment buildings are closed to candidates and their campaigners. They can’t even leave literature.

The fourth proposed action is to pass a “right to vote” resolution. This appears to be a statement of principle rather than a law that would change anything.

Grassrootless movement

Councilmembers Seth Grimes and Tim Male wrote these proposals with help from others, particularly Rob Richie of FairVote, a Takoma Park-based non-profit group, according to Grimes.

Responding to our queries, the city clerk said she does not recall any petitions or comments from citizens asking for any of these reforms prior to the council’s proposals. There were inquiries about 6 years ago from someone considering petitioning for a lower voting age, but it never materialized, she said.

Grimes said he was intrigued by several ideas promoting voting reform, but one became a focus when he learned from the city clerk that same-day registration was allowed in Rockville.

No-show tenants

The reform authors are concerned about low voting rates in wards with higher tenant-population – as shown by a FairVote survey. Another survey revealed that the voting demographic in the recent Ward 5 special election showed a higher percentage of highly educated home-owners than in the ward population.

Ironically, the two author’s wards, Ward 1 and 2, have a low percentage of tenants.

Though there are surveys showing who does and doesn’t vote, there are no surveys, to our knowledge, showing why non-voters don’t vote.

Takoma Park teens speak in support of lowering the voting age.

Takoma Park teens speak in support of lowering the voting age.

The council discussed the charter changes for LONG time at their March 11 meeting, and much of that time was spent on the voting age proposal. Such a charter change has to be looked at from many angles. For example, should lowering the voting age include lowering the age-limit for elected city office? After a long and at times heated discussion, they decided not to lower the age limit for office.

Unfortunately, the proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is creating controversy and getting all the attention, judging from public comments made at the meeting, and from heated exchanges on a city-wide email list. Your Gilbert dreads the moment the national media catches on and starts ridiculing Takoma Park. Again.

Stuck on questions

There were many sticky questions raised about same-day voting, too. How could a person just arrived in the city be able to prove residency on election day? A neighbor could accompany them and make a sworn affidavit. Could a person move to the city and on the same day register and participate in the nominating caucus? Yes.

Will these reforms get more tenants to vote? It’s sort of like playing darts in a dark room. You MIGHT hit the dart board, and if your darts bounce off the wall instead, no harm done. Unless you count all the council and staff time, and city revenues spent on this as “harm” if little comes of it.

The proposal that seems best aimed at the problem is the one that gets campaigners into apartment buildings. Lowering the voting age seems likely to bring the children of those white, educated homeowners to the polls, which will only exacerbate the perceived problem. Whether not being able to register at the last possible moment has been a roadblock between tenants and the polls is unknown. Nobody, to our knowledge, has asked tenants, “hey, how come you don’t vote?”

Your Gilbert thinks that would be a really, really good idea.

-Gilbert

PS. Dear Readers, do you depend on Granolapark to keep you informed about what the Takoma Park city council is up to? There is NO OTHER SOURCE for city council news that informs, explains, and entertains like we do. This is a community service, but we can’t provide it for free. We depend on advertising (in a glum economy) and your support. What is this service worth to you?

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About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

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