The student-led March for Our Lives movement has inspired legislation that would lower the District’s voting age to 16.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 during the Council’s legislative session on Tuesday. The bill would eliminate the District’s pre-registration system that currently allows 16- and 17-year-olds to register in advance for elections scheduled to take place after they turn 18. But the new proposed measure would allow D.C. residents to register on their 16th birthday and vote in the next local or presidential election.
“Some will say young people aren’t mature or educated enough, but I beg to differ,” Allen said. “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.”
Allen introduced the measure amid a wave of youth activism sparked following a deadly mass shooting in a school in Parkdale, Florida, in February that killed 17 people.
Since the shooting, students have organized walkouts, marches and town hall forums demanding tougher laws for gun control. In March, hundreds of thousands of student demonstrators descended on District streets for the March for Our Lives to call Congress to strengthen the nation’s gun laws.
Allen said the current political climate of student-activism has given him the footing for the bill, which is like legislation he introduced in 2015 that failed to make it out of a committee. The current measure has six other co-introducers.
Student activist Zion Kelly, who spoke at the national March for Our Lives rally and pushes local gun-control legislation after losing his twin brother Zaire to gun violence, took to Twitter to show support for the proposal.
“In D.C. we are one vote away from lowering the voting age to 16,” Kelly said, calling on members of Council to support the legislation using the hashtag #YouthVoiceMatters.
Under the legislation, the District’s 11,000 students would become the country’s youngest voters in the 2020 presidential election. Takoma Park, Greenbelt and Hyattsville in Maryland allow residents to vote at age 16, but only in local races.
Allen said society already gives young people greater legal responsibility, but that those responsibilities aren’t reflected in their ability to participate in the political process, even though they express well-informed opinions in Council hearings and elsewhere, and despite the potential impact these decisions would have on them.
“We have no problem collecting taxes or fees from residents who are 16 and 17 — why shouldn’t we fully enfranchise them?” Allen said. “Ironically, [young people in the District] pay fees to get a license plate that reads ‘Taxation Without Representation.’ I think it’s time to change that.”
According to U.S. 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/Latino, and five percent all others.
The bill currently has the support of numerous organizations, including Action for Children, Young Women’s Project, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, Mikva Challenge DC, Latin American Youth Center, Break the Cycle, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Whitman Walker Health Clinic. National organizations including Generation Citizen and National Youth Rights Association also support the measure.