Okay, start rolling your eyes now: Older columnist doesn’t think letting high-school kids vote is a good idea.
This week, D.C. Council member Charles Allen introduced a bill during Tuesday’s legislative meeting that would lower the voting age to 16 in the District for all elections – including presidential, congressional, federal and local contests. Allen’s measure was co-sponsored by a total of six others when former Mayor and now Council member Vincent Gray signed on immediately prior to the bill’s introduction.
These seven preliminary supporters comprise a bare majority of the Council if all of them eventually do vote for passage.
If the measure is ultimately approved by the Council and additionally signed by the mayor, D.C. would become the only jurisdiction in the country to allow minors to vote in presidential contests and federal-level elections, and the only major city to allow minors to vote in local races.
The 1971 ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the national voting age from 21 to 18, does not prohibit states or localities from establishing lower voting-age eligibility. Despite the available opportunity, no state has ever done so in the ensuing five decades and no jurisdiction has ever done so for presidential or federal elections. Only a tiny handful of small-sized municipalities have lowered the voting age for even local positions.
Allen cited the recent youth-centric anti-gun rally in Washington as a rationale for his bill. He additionally referenced 16-and-17-year-old minors in a media release issued the day he introduced his proposal by stating, “They can drive a car. They can work. They pay taxes.”
Allen also added that, “Just a few weeks ago, young District residents organized a citywide school walkout and spoke passionately at the Rally for DC Lives calling for an end to gun violence.”
Viewers watching the session may have been tempted to chuckle at all this nonsense, but Allen managed to maintain a serious demeanor throughout.
It’s an attempt at equivalency with “they can be drafted to fight in a war” and “they are old enough to purchase and consume alcohol” that were rallying cries among the now-Boomer-generation during the era of anti-Vietnam-War protests and when 18 was the national legal drinking age – which it’s worthy noting has since been raised to 21.
But Allen’s suggestive comparative measurement to then-and-now sort of begs a pondering: Why not also sanction high-school-age 14 and 15 year-olds to vote? Underage minors showing up at political rallies around the country, or paying taxes at youthful first-jobs, are hardly sufficient reasons to lower the voting age to include pubescent kids. Does the Council intend to establish a driver’s license as the new voter card?
There’s a general and accepted proposition that the advent of adulthood, with the attendant responsibilities and obligations prompting a corresponding level of personal independence and relative maturity, is an appropriate milestone at which to convey the right and privilege of voting.
Despite the tendency of District politicians to transparently covet the chance to make national headlines with whatever exotic, edgy and trendy proposal they can concoct in advance of any other jurisdiction adopting the same and ahead of them, this is nothing more than one that crosses an invisible-but-everyone-can-see-it line of common sense.
A similar bill introduced by Allen in 2015 went nowhere, failing to engender either a committee hearing or vote by the Council. Now, however, Allen chairs the Judiciary Committee and controls consideration of the measure, giving him the power to potentially advance the proposal through the legislative process and before the full Council for a vote.
Current city law allows 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote and permits 17-year-olds to vote in their registration-affiliated party’s primary election, under the city’s increasingly antiquated “closed-primary” system, if they will turn 18 by the date of the general election.
Sorry, kids, but that’s where the voting age should remain.