On this date, 145 years ago, Wyoming became the first state in the union to extend voting rights to women. At that time only about 1,000 women lived in the state and benefited immediately from the groundbreaking legislation. However, in 2014, women of voting age across our nation enjoy full suffrage rights, and will hopefully be equally represented in elected office sooner rather than later. Today, it is important to remember that this crucial--and now widely accepted--expansion of voting rights began when a group of legislators had the audacity to expand the electorate beyond the status quo, and allow the American public to recognize the value in a more inclusive democratic process. Without such action, we remain stagnant as a democratic society.
As we approach a similar juncture in our democracy, we should remember the lessons that Wyoming taught us 145 years ago. The debate around lowering the voting age to 16 is reaching a crescendo in the United Kingdom, and is well under way here in the United States. In June of 2013, Takoma Park, MD, became the first U.S. city to extend voting rights in local elections to 16 and 17 year-olds, and FairVote played a significant role in advancing the idea. There was certainly initial skepticism around the idea, however, the city council moved forward, Takoma Park's 2013 local elections took place, and the world kept turning. In fact, 16 and 17 year-old voters participated at higher rates than their older counterparts.
Opponents argue that these young potential voters might not be able to make sound decisions, or that they will vote like their parents--the same arguments that were made when women fought for suffrage. However, just like 145 years ago in Wyoming, Americans are beginning to understand that this expansion of the franchise makes sense, and has some very positive implications for local civic engagement, voter turnout, and the health of our democracy. Takoma Park's neighbor, Hyattsville, is considering adopting the same policy, and localities across the nation should do the same. Here at FairVote, we are confident that one day Americans will look back--as we look back at Wyoming today--and appreciate the innovation of cities like Takoma Park and Hyattsville for their role in expanding the right to vote to America's 16 and 17 year old citizens.