On Tuesday, District Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) will introduce the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. The act proposes the voting age be lowered to 16 in the District of Columbia with the goal of increasing civic engagement and participation, establishing voting as a lifelong habit, and empowering youth.
“At the age of 16, our society already gives young people greater legal responsibility. They can drive a car. They can work. Some are raising a family or helping their family make ends meet. They pay taxes. Ironically, they pay fees to get a license plate that reads ‘Taxation Without Representation.’ I think its time to change that,” said Councilmember Allen.
As students rallied all over the country to draw attention to gun violence in the schools and the streets, notably with the March 24th March for Our Lives here in Washington, many say they deserve a vote and a voice in the legislative process that allows for possession of the weapons. The last time the voting age was lowered was from 18 to 21 in 1970, amid anger about the Vietnam War and a draft where men could be sent to war three years before they could have their say in government decisions through the vote.
The bill is supported by the Vote16DC coalition, a group of youth, adult allies, and organizations led by Generation Citizen and the Young Women’s Project, who believe that DC should extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in the District. A diverse group of young people from across DC are taking action to mobilize their peers and educate city leaders and DC residents about the benefits of lowering the voting age to 16.
“Our voice, and our vote, should be heard when everything that’s being voted on affects us,” said Tre’Von Davis, 17, a Junior Mentor at Life Pieces To Masterpieces and Ward 4 Resident. “We work, support our communities, and pay taxes, and deserve to have a say on our future and have an influence on politics.”
Sixteen-year-old voting is not without precedent. Thee Maryland cities – Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt – allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, and several other cities around the country are debating the issue. DC is in a position, though, to become the first major US city to make this change to strengthen its democracy.
Research shows that voting is habitual, and 16 is a better time than 18 to establish the habit. Turnout data reflects this; in cities that permit 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, they are participating at higher rates than older age groups.
“Only one in five voters ages 18 to 24 actually votes,” said 16 year-old Alik Schier a Peer Educator at Young Women’s Project and Ward 1 resident. “By lowering the voting age to 16, DC can not only teach students about the concept of civic engagement, but also provide the actual experience of getting registered and into a habit of voting early in life.”
“Young people’s lives are profoundly impacted by the decisions and agenda of DC leaders,” said Nadia Gold-Moritz, Executive Director of the Young Women’s Project. “As someone who works with youth every day, I believe they deserve the opportunity to weigh in and to be taken seriously as voting constituents.”
Allen agrees. “The laws and budgets we pass have huge effects on these young people. We have a citywide curfew for anyone under the age of 17. We have laws with penalties that can dictate their future,” he said.
“We have no problem collecting taxes or fees from residents who are 16 and 17 – why shouldn’t we fully enfranchise them?” Allen said.
The District would be the first to lower the voting age to 16 for all races, including voting for president and eventually for House and Senate representatives. According to US Census data, in 2016 there were 11,831 DC residents ages 16 and 17 – nearly 62 percent of whom were black, 21 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic/Latinx and five percent with race unspecified.
This is not the first time Councilmember Allen has introduced such a bill. He first proposed such a measure in November 2015, but it never went to a hearing or vote. At the moment a different political and social mood on the issue prevails.
“Some people will say young people aren’t mature or educated enough. But I beg to differ,” said Allen. “Just a few weeks ago, young District residents organized a citywide school walkout and spoke passionately at the Rally for DC Lives calling for an end to gun violence. In hearings on our schools, students testified with well-informed opinions.”
“And yet, they can’t exercise their voice where it matters most – at the ballot box.”
The bill will be co-introduced by Councilmembers Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1), David Grosso (At Large) both of whom co-introduced the 2015 legislation, as well as Robert C. White Jr. (At Large), Trayon White Sr. (Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (At Large).
Vote16DC is part of Vote16USA, a national initiative of Generation Citizen that supports local efforts to extend voting rights to 16-year-olds.