Activists of the MonthFor decades, 17-year-olds who turn 18 on or before the general election have been permitted to vote in Maryland's primary elections. Because of a Court of Appeals decision on early voting in December 2006, the State Board of Elections changed the policy without notifying the public or those young people impacted by the change. The Board's new policy of only allowing 18-year-olds to vote in the primary election had the potential to disenfranchise thousands of Maryland's youngest voters.
Sarah Boltuck, a Maryland teenager on the verge of losing her right to vote, contacted FairVote this summer alerting us to the change and asking us how we could help her regain her right to vote in the Feb. 12 primary. FairVote staff submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Board of Elections in an effort to uncover how the Board came to this unfortunate decision. At the same time, Sarah's father, Richard Boltuck, contacted the Maryland Republican and Democratic Parties, who agreed with Sarah that she should have the right to vote in their primary elections.
In the wake of Richard's powerful commentary written for the Outlook section of the Washington Post, Senator Jamie Senator Jamie Raskin (Montgomery County) wrote a letter to the Attorney General asking him to consider the parties' legal argument that the Board of Elections violated the freedom of association clause of the 1st Amendment. Less than a week later, the Attorney General responded to Senator Raskin in a letter, agreeing with his argument. After hearing testimony from Sarah Boltuck, FairVote's Adam Fogel and more, the Board of Elections reconsidered the issue and voted unanimously to allow 17-year-olds born on or before Nov. 4, 1990 to vote in primary elections.
This victory shows that one person can indeed make a difference. By reaching out to FairVote, the state parties and a state legislator passionate about youth issues, Sarah Boltuck and her father helped restore voting rights to thousands of young people across the state of Maryland.