November 8, 2018 at 10:57 am EST | by Mark Lee
Pondering D.C.’s voting age as voting is underway
voting age, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) (Photo by Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a dreary rainy day in D.C. as local voters, and those across the country, head to the polls to cast Election Day ballots in local, state and federal races.

Early voting has been significant in many jurisdictions throughout the nation and even in the increasingly low-turnout District, although to a lesser degree. Despite not much being at stake on the D.C. ballot, some reports are that voting is above recent levels and is presumably due to voters simply sending a symbolic signal of opposition to the occupant of the White House downtown. Many District residents, after all, pay closer attention to, and fret more over, other-place campaigns and national issues than here-at-home candidates and local matters.

At filing deadline, it’s too early to know how large turnout will be either here or elsewhere and the outcomes, of course, are pending.

While awaiting the national, regional and local results – including in the essentially sole competitive hometown contest for the set-aside D.C. Council At-Large seat reserved by law for a non-majority-party usually-pseudo-independent candidate – pondering local electoral-related voting matters seems alternately appropriate.

A D.C. Council committee last week prompted widespread local eye-rolling of which celebratory legislative sponsors seem to be blissfully unaware. A bill advanced to the full Council that would allow those as young as 16 years of age, or who will be 16 years old by the time of the general election, to vote in both primary and general elections.

Initiated by Council member Charles Allen, the bill would permit roughly 11,000 resident 16- and 17-year olds to vote not only for local candidates, but also for federal candidates including those running for president. The District would become the solitary jurisdiction in the country to allow the latter.

A previous attempt three years ago by Allen to lower the local voting age went nowhere, but this time a bare seven-member majority of the Council is co-sponsoring the bill. The proposal is considered highly likely to be approved, and for passage to occur in the next month prior to the end of the current two-year legislative session.

National law does not prohibit such a move, only specifying that the voting age may not be set higher than 18 years old.

Three nearby Maryland towns – Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt – permit minors to vote in municipal elections, along with Berkeley, Calif.

D.C. would become the only place to allow those younger than 18 years of age to vote in federal contests and the largest municipality to allow residents 16-and-over to vote.

Proponent arguments include deference to 16-year-olds being permitted to work a job, and drive a car. They cannot, however, legally drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, partake of marijuana, or purchase or use vaping products. Minors require parental permission to enter into a range of business arrangements or contractual transactions and conduct numerous other activities.

There is mention of a “trickle-up” effect whereby voting minors encourage parents and other adults to also vote. It is argued that the earlier a person begins voting the likelier they will become habitual voters.

While those are admiral objectives and possible benefits of allowing minors to vote, the notion is preposterous. Voting should be a conveyance commensurate with adulthood, and adult-like responsibilities and rights.

What is most perplexing, however, is that legislators are moving to do this while they continue to avoid more pressing and important matters of electoral fairness. What’s the sense of letting minors enjoy the franchise but prohibit those who are independents – nationally more than a majority of younger voters – from equitable participatory privilege?

In D.C., “non-partisan” registrants unaffiliated with a political party are not allowed to vote in the city’s increasingly antiquated “closed-primary” system.

Sure, go ahead, extend voting rights to those with hardly a wick or any whittle of worldly experience in the real world. But don’t then tell them, like actual adults are told, ‘hey, we were only kidding.’

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