EDITORIAL: Voter Education — Not Age — Will Make a Difference

Flag of the District of Columbia
Flag of the District of Columbia (Courtesy of dpw.dc.gov)

When D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) joined the masses of mostly young people from the District at the March for Our Lives rally earlier this year, he marched with his young daughter perched on his shoulders. It was obvious he wanted her to see what was ahead, not just the hundreds of thousands who came to D.C. to rally against gun violence but to get a bird’s eye view of the issues children her age are already confronting. He must have also wanted her to hear how they want to effect change, and she even may have overheard her father making plans to enfranchise them locally at age 16.

Moved by the articulate, visionary and passionate voices of those no older than 19, Allen wasted no time introducing legislation this week to lower the voting age in the District to 16. District youths at 16 are eligible to get a driver’s license, work, pay taxes and help care for family members, and, Allen noted the hours of testimony by District’s youth before the D.C. Council on legislative issues that impact them directly.

“Some people will say young people aren’t mature or educated enough. But I beg to differ,” Allen wrote on his webpage. “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 informed opinions. And yet, they can’t exercise their voice where it matters most — at the ballot box.”

While we see a perilous path on which the Democratic process is headed for any reasons, permitting 16-year-olds to vote could be a breath of fresh air if they in fact vote.

However, since qualified D.C. electors with no age restriction can also hold elected office in positions other than delegate, U.S. senator and U.S. representative, if the law passes, we predict a few 16-year-olds will run for elected office, as well. If this is the intent of Allen’s bill, we take a pause in supporting it. If serious voter education is required for all 16-year-olds, then a better-informed electorate may bring about the change Allen wants.

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