Should 16 and 17-year-olds be allowed to vote? It’s not as absurd an idea as some may think it is.
After months of witnessing student activists take to the streets in acts of civil protest, Washington D.C. is poised to pass a measure that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in municipal and federal elections.
While some may be skeptical of lowering the voting age, others point out that those individuals are already contributing in significant ways to our society, and are therefore deserving of a voice when it comes to selecting elected leaders.
“At the age of 16, our society already gives young people greater legal responsibility,” Councilmember Charles Allen said. “They can drive a car. They can work. Some are raising a family or helping their family make ends meet. They pay taxes.”
Indeed, on that last point Allen may have a point — one of the hallmarks of the American Revolution itself was animosity toward taxation without representation, which was also a rallying cry for the movement to give D.C. voters the right to vote for president in the first place. It remains a point of contention for many residents over their lack of representation in Congress.
Citizens over the age of 16 certainly deserve the right to vote on those merits, but in recent months have also disproved the erroneous belief that teens can’t be civically minded. Students walked out of schools across the country earlier this year to voice their demand for reformed gun laws, showcasing their understanding of the issue and their willingness to speak out about important political topics.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t restrict states or other geopolitical boundaries like D.C. from lowering the voting age. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, simply states that the right to cast a ballot shall not be denied to anyone that age or older.
If localities want to, they can lower the voting age to 16, so long as the U.S. government doesn’t prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, the District of Columbia's ordinances, technically being federal jurisdiction, are subject to the approval of Congress, making the measure unlikely to move forward, especially with the GOP currently controlling both legislative houses.
Still, lowering the voting age is a topic worth having a discussion about. Washington D.C., in pushing the measure forward, is driving a debate the country should engage in.
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters