STONECREST, Ga. – A teenager with an eye for politics made history in Atlanta Thursday. But her age almost brought her plans to a screeching halt.
Mary Pat Hector can vote, but she was almost unable to run for office…. Because she’s 19.
“[If] we can legally be allowed to serve in our military and die for country. In addition, we are allowed to participate in the voting process of elected officials, we should certainly have the ability to be able to help govern and serve the community we are willing to die for," Hector argued.
Marvin Arrington Jr., Hector’s attorney, agreed.
“It is a shame that in 2016, Women & Minorities are still fighting for Access to the ballot–the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions are clear that candidates are eligible if they are of voting age,” he said.
But after a hearing, DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections decided that her age would not dictate her fate on the upcoming political ballot.
Her age was the issue on the table once one of the other candidates pointed out the legality of her candidacy for the March 21 election.
George Turner Jr., one of Hector’s four opponents in the race for the District 4 seat on the Stonecrest City Council, wrote a letter to the Voter Registration and Elections' director, H. Maxine Daniels on Jan. 23, challenging Hector’s eligibility to run for city council because she’s 19 years old.
“My research revealed that in order to hold officer of commissioner or city council, one must be 21 years old, unless the charter specifically makes an exception,” Turner wrote in his letter.
“This issue is not about Mary Pat Hector nor is it about the one who pointed it out. It is a question of whether the election board has applied the correct letter of the law to this election,” Turner said in an email to 11Alive.
But several prominent politicians spoke up on her behalf, including Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall.
“My parents and grandparents marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for the rights that we enjoy today,” he argued. “I’m disappointed that we are still fighting this fight but am even more excited to see the next generation of leaders picking up the mantle.”
The mayor of Clarkston also gave a recommendation to not only Hector, but also any young person interested in politics and getting involved in their community.
“I think we should have more young candidates. Anyone who is eligible to vote should be qualified to be a candidate,” Ted Terry said.
Hector, a native Atlantan, who grew up in the Stone Mountain-Stonecrest area, was homeschooled with her five siblings. She graduated in 2015 from College Spelman as a double political science and comparative women’s studies major.
She's a nationally recognized youth leader who has worked with the White House and key elected officials to tackle hot-button issues like gun violence and racism. In fact, she founded her first organization, Youth in Action, at age 10. She's led marches and rallies.
- Promote safe neighborhoods and work to decrease forms of violence impacting the citizens of Post 4.
- Advocate for improvements in community centers, sporting facilities, parks and recreation areas and provide better services for underrepresented groups in policy, i.e. seniors and youth.
- Welcome growth and diversity through policies and programs that will protect, preserve and enhance existing neighborhoods, natural amenities and cultural and human resources for future generations.
- Support economic development while promoting emerging technologies and corporations in the that would create new job opportunities and cultivate local businesses and entrepreneurs.
Two hours after the hearing, the board did make that exception. The ruling was announced around 6:30 p.m., that Hector could have her name on the ballot--making her the youngest candidate on a city council ballot in Georgia's history.
“The board’s decision is a testament to the inclusion of the next generation’s participation in the democratic process,” Hector said.