DC Council suspends bill to lower voting age to 16

Elie Salem

The DC Council voted seven to six to table the bill that would have lowered the voting age in DC to 16. The Vote16 activists vowed to continue to push for the legislation despite the setback.

The bill, titled the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018, would have made DC the first state or city to enfranchise 16 and 17 year-olds in federal elections, and one of the few to allow minors to vote in local elections.

The surprise reversal came on November 13 after two of the bill co-sponsors, Councilmember At-Large Anita Bonds and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, flipped their positions and voted to indefinitely postpone the legislation. Trayon White was the last to change his position and remained indecisive throughout the day, even asking his followers on Facebook for advice a few hours before the vote.

While their rationale was not entirely clear, both Councilmembers appeared to have last minute reservations. “Trayon White expressed concerns with the lack of civic education in schools, and wanted to increase that before we move forward with this bill,” explained Vote16DC youth spokesperson and Wilson junior Alik Schier. “Anita Bonds has said that she still 100% supports the bill, but believes some people need more time, citing the elderly community.”

Councilmember White did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans was the leading proponent against the bill. Evans reportedly spoke to multiple Councilmembers, including Councilmember Bonds and White, and urged them to table the legislation.

The vote significantly reduces the chances of the bill being passed. The legislative deadline for the current session of the council is fast approaching, and once the deadline passes the bill will restart at the beginning of the legislative process and have to pass through a series of difficult hurdles and confirmations.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, one of the main supporters of the legislation in the Council and its original and its original sponsor, acknowledged its temporary defeat on Twitter but indicated that the legislation was still a policy priority. “I’m disappointed that a majority of the Council decided to table @Vote16DC rather than have a debate & vote. We missed the moment & opportunity to give these young voices the power they deserve. Change is hard. But to all the young leaders, don’t give up. We’ll be back.”

While youth activists were dispirited, they stress that the setback will only intensify their efforts to lower the voting age. “We are more energized and active than ever,” said Schier. “This in no way means we are going away. We aren’t going anywhere. The young people in DC won’t stop fighting for this bill.”

Fellow Vote16DC youth spokesperson and Wilson junior Tiffany Missembe added, “[Vote16 is] going back to the drawing board and looking at new techniques to [get] White and Anita Barnes change their minds about their table decision.”