Bill to Lower D.C. Voting Age to 16 Faces Critical Hurdle

By Ra-Jah S. Kelly

The D.C. Council will decide next week on a bill to lower the city’s legal voting age to 16, likely ending a years long legislative battle.

The bill, dubbed the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018, will face a vote before the full council Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety unanimously passed the legislation on Nov. 1.

The amendment allows District residents to register and vote after their 16th birthday in elections for offices that include the city council, mayor, DC State Board of Education, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, D.C.’s congressional representative and shadow senator, and U.S. president.

Although some jurisdictions in the country already allow those 16 and older to vote in local elections — including the nearby Maryland cities of Takoma Park, Greenbelt and Hyattsville — the legislation would make D.C. the first to permit 16-year-olds to vote in nationwide elections.

Reintroduced in April by Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen, the amendment saw approximately 70 witnesses testify in support during a public hearing in June.

“I introduced [the bill] two years ago, and then it didn’t have a lot of support and I wasn’t able to move it forward,” Allen said. “But this year, everything changed. We had the mayor who supported it, [D.C. Attorney General] Karl Racine came out and supported it, a majority of my colleagues did, and a big part of it was, frankly, young people helped eviscerate any argument that anyone has ever made against us.”

Given the significant public council support, the upcoming vote appears to be a legislative formality.

Greta Jalen, a 17-year-old student at School Without Walls, has been following the process since the beginning.

“I remember reading about it two years ago because Charles Allen first proposed it [then] but it was completely shut down by the mayor,” Greta said.

After attending the recent committee vote, student activists who had campaigned for and supported the legislation were bullish about its chances.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m really excited,” said Monae Scott, 17, a student at The Seed School. “It makes us feel that our hard work has paid off and we’ve had the best outcome.”

Many of the youth activists became aware of the legislation through the efforts of Vote16DC, a local arm of national nonprofit Generation Citizez, which focuses on improving youth civic engagement.

Dave Chandrasekaran, a campaign manager for Vote16DC who has been involved in D.C. community activism for years, said minorities will be one of the greatest beneficiaries of the legislation.

“It’s pretty obvious that one of the big groups of folks who face the largest challenges are young people, especially youth from communities of color,” Chandrasekaran said. “[Voting] seemed like one step that could really help young people get a larger voice, have more input, and maybe be able to persuade city leaders to really put more attention on issues that really affect them and ways that can help improve their lives and their opportunities.”

Chandrasekaran said that though many have questioned youths’ responsibility and interest in voting, his experiences have shown they are more than capable.

“I think perhaps we got in a place where as adults we started maybe minimizing our views of young people over the years and thinking of young people as less able,” he said. “But the reality is young people right now have the most information and passion for improving their communities, and all they need is just a chance to be able to weigh in.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer

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