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D.C. Council committee approves bill to lower D.C. voting age to 16

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The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety passed a bill to lower the voting age to 16 in D.C. with a unanimous 3-0 vote Thursday.

With Committee approval, the bill will now be placed on the agenda of the Nov. 13 City Council Legislative Meeting, where it will be voted on by the full council.

Vote16DC, a coalition of youth, adult allies, and organizations that support granting voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in the District, has spent months leading up to this committee vote mobilizing community support and educating Councilmembers on the merits of lowering DC’s voting age to 16.

“I’m really glad to see that the committee voted for this bill,” said Chloe Ifill, a Vote16DC Youth Leader and 16-year-old Ward 7 resident who attends Woodrow Wilson High School. “We’ve worked hard to get the word out by talking to other youth and meeting with Councilmembers, and it’s great to see that our voice is being heard and valued.”

The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 was introduced in April by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, and a total of eight members of D.C. Council have announced support for the measure.

To become law, a majority of the full Council must vote in favor of the bill in two separate votes, per requirements under D.C.’s Home Rule.

“It’s exciting that we can be part of history by getting D.C. youth the right to vote,” said Helisa Cruz, a 16-year-old student at BASIS D.C. Public Charter School who lives in Ward 5 and is active in Vote16DC. “I am hopeful that when they vote on this bill, D.C. Councilmembers will make the right decision.”

The DC Office of Planning estimates that there are approximately 10,400 16- and 17-year-olds in the District, with nearly 80 percent identified as youth of color.

"DC is poised to become the first major American city to grant voting-rights to 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Vote16DC Campaign Manager Dave Chandrasekaran, a Ward 1 resident. "At a time when political discourse in this country is so divisive, it's really inspiriting to witness how passionate D.C. youth are about having a voice and positively influencing our community."

The six co-introducers joining Councilmember Allen were Councilmembers David Grasso (At-large), Anita Bonds (At-large), Robert White (At-large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Vincent Gray (Ward 7), and Trayon White (Ward 8). Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-large) announced support for the bill in October.

“At the age of 16, your legal relationship with the government changes,” Allen said. “Young people work and pay income taxes. Some are raising a family or helping their family make ends meet. They can drive a car. Ironically, they pay fees to get a license plate that reads ‘End Taxation Without Representation.’ I think it’s time to change that.”

If approved by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor, the bill would have to undergo the requisite 30-day congressional review period before becoming an official act. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are already able to pre-register to vote under current D.C. law.

If the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 is enacted, D.C. would become the fifth US city to have a voting age of 16, and the only jurisdiction in the country where this age group could vote in federal elections, including for president.

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