If enacted, D.C. teens would be the youngest in the country to cast votes in the president election.
The legislation was introduced Tuesday by Council Member Charles Allen, a Democrat who believes young voters are unfairly taxed without representation since many high school students work and are otherwise treated as adults. He also believes allowing 16-year-olds to vote — sophomores and juniors in high school — will encourage them to be more active in political causes they believe in.
“By enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds, we can bring our young people directly into the political process, lift their voices, and, hopefully, create engaged, lifelong voters,” he said.
Allen needs the support of seven council members for the bill to pass and head to Mayor Muriel Bowser for a signature.
Though Bowser has voiced support for the bill, there would remain the possibility that Congress could override the decision:
The District of Columbia Home Rule Act gives Congress the ability to review any legislation before it becomes law. This power is delegated to the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. D.C. has run into this issue before when the council has tried to pass controversial initiatives about guns and marijuana. In 2014, Congress blocked Initiative 71 which legalized minimum amounts of marijuana for personal use.
However, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the committee, offered support of the measure, saying that “proper voting age is a state issue”.
“If the District of Columbia City Council passes and the mayor signs a bill on this issue, I will support D.C.’s right to home rule.”
The Oversight Committee has had a long history of blocking D.C. laws, especially when Republicans are in control of Congress. If Democrats are able to retake the House in November, Cummings will chair the Oversight Committee and the District will have a much better chance at passing its agenda without being blocked by Congress.
If the move is not blocked, D.C. will become the first jurisdiction to allow citizens younger than 18 to vote in presidential elections; however, it won’t be the first to lower the voting age in general:
Two other jurisdictions in the D.C. area have also toyed with enfranchising minors. In 2013, Takoma Park, Md. lowered the voting age for municipal elections followed by Hyattsville Md.