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Would teen voters make a difference?

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler now says 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the Feb. 12 primaries as long as they will be 18 by the general election.

Maryland 2002 2004
Total voter turnout 46.6% 59.7%
18 to 24 19.5% 42.9%
25 to 44 37.0% 52.5%
45 to 64 56.4% 70.9%
65 to 74 65.1% 67.9%
75+ 63.1% 60.1%

That used to be Maryland’s policy — until Gansler advised the Maryland State Board of Elections that a December 2006 opinion by the Court of Appeals, which struck down an early voting statute, suggested the practice was illegal.

In the latest advisory opinion, Gansler stood by the first interpretation but said it’s outweighed by the First Amendment rights of the 17-going-on-18-year-olds.

But here’s the question: even if the policy is changed back, how big a difference will it make? A quick look at U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicates that young people don’t, in fact, rock the vote: Although the 18-to-24 age group dramatically increased in voter turnout from the 2002 to 2004 elections, it still remains the lowest in the state.

Will this proposed change make a difference? Or, in the long run, is it not about numbers but about a constitutional right?

Liz Farmer, Legal Affairs Writer


  1. I’ll leave the First Amendment conversation to others more in the know than I am on that subject. Where I can speak, and with a robust understanding, is to the concept of generations vs. age groups.

    Viewing time as linear produces inaccurate predictions, bad policy and lots of confusion. Yes, we do “count” years: 2007, 2008, 2009. But today’s 18-24 year olds are not like same age group 20 years past, nor 20 years hence. Today’s 18-24 year olds are a different generation and have a different peer personality, a different archetype, a different lifecourse and very different reasons for coming into public life.

    Today’s 18-24 year olds are Millennials, known as the Hero Generation in archetypal language. They are historically known for an early surge into political power and for voting in blocks as a generation. Heroes grow up in a world where children are protected; they trust institutions and they trust adults to make good decisions on their behalf. They ping to their peers and they understand themselves to be a special generation.

    Their next elders, GenXers, or in archetypal language, the Nomad Generation, is quite different. Nomads grow up underprotected by Society teaming with self-absorbed adults. They learn early on in life not to trust institutions, government or adults. So, they don’t vote much. And they don’t tend to believe much in the efficacy of voting in terms of effecting change. They volunteer. And they don’t need to volunteer inside of structured organizations. They just roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done.

    Now, of course, I’m talking about a “peer personality” here and not the exact and specific actions of every member of a generation. The key point is that there is little value in looking at demographics from the past. The value is in understanding the generational archetype and its age location in time. There’s more to it all of course, but these are some basic points to consider when thinking about the issue addressed here.

  2. I will be about 12 days away from being 18 when the 2010 elections begin! I NEED to vote! this one is extreamly important because i have an extreamly strong politicol view.