Council member introduces bill to lower D.C. voting age


Ethan Leifman and Elie Salem

A bill introduced Tuesday in the DC Council would lower the voting age for federal and local elections from 18 to 16 years of age within the District. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who proposed the bill, noted that a lower voting age is necessary in light of youth leadership in the gun control debate and the civic duties that many 16 and 17 year-olds are already tasked with performing.

Wilson Data Coordinator Joseph Bellino calculated that a total of 930 new voters would be added to the voter rolls if the legislation passes. 16-year-olds are currently allowed to pre-register to vote, a policy that many took advantage of last month when over 220 Wilson students registered or pre-registered to vote.

Wilson students overwhelmingly expressed support for the legislation. “Kids nowadays are especially politically active,” said sophomore Danny Bloom upon hearing about the proposal, “so I think it’s a good idea.”

Many Latin American states such as Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua already have a minimum voting age of 16. Sophomore Eli Becker, who is from Brazil, stated that she supports the measure. More specifically, she believes Brazil’s unique voting rules are ideal for democracy. In Brazil, voting is optional for 16 and 17 year olds, and obligatory for Brazilians between 18 and 70 years. “I think that’s the smartest idea because so many people this age don’t want to have the responsibility or know exactly what to vote for,” says Becker.

Inside the U.S., however, a voting age of 16 is extremely uncommon. Only the suburban Maryland cities of Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt, as well as Berkeley, California have a minimum voting age of 16, and only for local elections. The DC proposal is unique because it would allow voting in national as well as local elections.

The main inspiration for the bill was youth activism following the Parkland shooting. “Get out there and vote. For the love of God, prevent this from happening at your school,” Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez said, encouraging her fellow students to ‘change Congress’ if Congress doesn’t change gun laws. Many local politicians, from Mayor Muriel Bowser to the proponent of the bill, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, strongly supported the March for Our Lives Rally.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Allen remarked, “It’s pretty hard for anyone to watch the events of the last couple of months and not understand the pure power and maturity of incredibly young voices,” he said.

Allen also highlighted the civic duties that 16-year-olds already perform before being given the right to vote. At sixteen years of age, minors are able to pay their own taxes, legally work, and drive vehicles.

Councilmember Allen has already secured the support of six council members, the majority needed to pass the bill. This significant amount of support from the council makes it likely that the legislation will pass successfully.

While it may pass the Council, DC’s unique political status places it between the jurisdiction of local legislators and Congress itself. Congress can effectively deny or supersede legislation passed by the District, a power Republicans have used occasionally since they obtained their congressional majority.

Despite the possibility of Congressional interference, proponents of the bill hope that the proposal alone inspires more cities nationwide to pass similar legislation.