There is a movement growing in the District of Columbia to pass the “Youth Voting Amendment Act of 2015.” Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward-6) introduced legislation to lower the voting age to 16 for local and federal elections. The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward-1) and David Grosso (At-Large). After meeting with local community group Our C.A.P.S. (Community Alliance for Peaceful Streets), Allen was motivated to draft the legislation. FairVote is excited to support local residents in this endeavor along with our allies at National Youth Rights Association, CIRCLE, Young Women’s Project, and Youth For National Change.
FairVote has been advocating for establishing municipal voting rights for 16 and 17-year-olds for some time. In 2013, our organization played a critical role in helping Takoma Park, MD make history as the first city to lower its voting age to 16 in local elections. This past January, neighboring Hyattsville followed their lead. The issue is gaining serious momentum as more and more cities see the value of giving 16 and 17-year-olds a voice in democracy. The New York Times recently wrote an article outlining the debate over the merits of such proposals across the United States. Researchers have regularly published positive conclusions evaluating the impact of lower voting ages in Scotland, Denmark, and other countries. Overall, there is a growing consensus that lowering the voting age establishes habitual voting behavior and leads to increased voter turnout. In America, citizens can drive, pay taxes, and work without any restrictions on hours at the age of 16. Enfranchising this group is consistent with fair democratic principles.
Councilmember Allen’s bill is an unprecedented expansion of suffrage. If passed, the District of Columbia will become the first city to grant 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local and federal elections. As the effort in Washington, DC moves forward, youth activists, parents, and community groups are meeting with members of the City Council to show support for the legislation. Their goal is to have the Judiciary Committee formally hold a hearing on the bill. With an upcoming primary election for local and federal offices in June 2016, the prospect of having more voices at the table is exciting.