Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen recently introduced legislation that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. If passed, District 16-year-olds could vote not only in local elections but also in federal elections, which is to say that these teens could vote in national elections in November and in 2020.
The legislation was cosponsored by at-large Council member David Grosso and Ward 1 Council member Brianne K. Nadeau.
Allen pointed out that there is nothing in our federal laws or in the Constitution that forbids this. As it stands now, the 26th Amendment prevents states or the federal government from denying the right to vote to those 18 or older on account of their age.
Is the idea worth supporting? Let’s look at some things.
In a jurisdiction where voter turnout is traditionally and disgracefully low, putting teens on the roll surely can’t hurt.
Do we think that 16-year-olds in the District (and elsewhere, by inference) are well-informed enough to cast a meaningful vote? School’s out on that one, but we could make a wild guess that their vocabulary is probably the equal of what we read in presidential tweets.
In terms of what young people know about the issues, voting at such an early age may reflect the state of our education system, perhaps revealing if there’s work to be done in that arena.
For young people, getting the vote would likely serve as a motivational and inspirational tool, indicating that adults have some faith in their potential as change agents. The courage, tenacity and articulateness displayed by the teens from Parkland at the recent demonstrations in favor of gun control bodes well.
We understand that even knowledgeable adults might hesitate before allowing persons this young to vote. We share some of that skepticism. But we also think that there are a number of upsides.
Other jurisdictions (only local in the United States) allow it. At least two countries — Brazil and Austria — are also in the ranks. Is a trial run possible?
The bottom line is, if 16-year-olds join the voting ranks, we don’t think it would result in some kind of disaster for the electoral process. You know, the kind of thing in which foreign entities attempt to interfere or a candidate with a winning margin of three million votes is defeated.