Three Washington, D.C. council members have introduced an idea that is bound to become controversial: the trio wants to let 16-year-olds vote.
In Takoma Park, Maryland, 16-year-olds have been allowed to vote in municipal elections for the last two years. And San Francisco lawmakers will possibly have a referendum next year to get input on lowering the age limitations for state and local elections.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Davis writes that the DC proposal is more far-reaching than any state or municipality because it would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in federal elections. The author, council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), explains that there is nothing in the 26th Amendment forbidding younger citizens to vote. The Constitution does ensure the right to vote for citizens 18 or older.
“It is constitutional,” Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law at Stanford University, said of the D.C. proposal. “There is no right to vote in the Constitution . . . it doesn’t say you can disenfranchise people who are under 18 . . . the amendment prevents against discrimination, it doesn’t prevent against greater inclusion.”
Allen decided the proposal was important when he thought about the rights and responsibilities that 16-year-olds already have. They can drive, pay taxes, and can even be tried as an adult in court. He adds that starting a sound civic action at a young age is another plus.
The proposal, if passed, would allow 16-year-olds to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The plan is named the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2015, and those who advocate for the proposition say it could make a change in the amount of civic involvement in the District. For the city’s last mayoral election, only 38% of registered voters turned out, according to Fox5 DC.
If the legislation passes, it will make the District the largest city in the country to allow 16-year-olds to take part officially in choosing their city’s officials.
Andrew Giambrone, reporting for the Washington City Paper, quotes Allen as saying:
“The age of 16 has an important place in our society. It is an age where we remove, generally, the mantle of childhood and instead apply many expectations of adulthood. We do this by conveying a whole spectrum of rights and duties at the time a person turns 16 years of age.”
The National Youth Rights Association, a nonprofit with approximately 10,000 members, supports the bill.
In a summary of the bill, authors say the law would line up with the “no taxation without representation” movement taking place in DC. The District is what is called a distinctive federal district, unquestionably not a state. Because of this, it cannot have voting representation in Congress. The Congress, according to the Constitution, has exclusive jurisdiction over DC in “all cases whatsoever.”
DC does have a delegate in the House of Representatives, but the position does not include the right to vote on the House floor. The agent can vote on procedural matters and in congressional committees, but citizens of the District do not have representation in the Senate.
In 1961, the 23rd Amendment gave the District three electoral votes in the election of the President and Vice President of the US. Many citizens say DC should have voting representation in Congress, and use the phrase “Taxation Without Representation” to prove their point. DC residents and businesses paid $20,747,652,000 in federal taxes in 2012.