Charles Allen

Charles Allen represents Ward 6 on the D.C. Council. (AFRO File Photo)

D.C. Council member Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced “The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2015” on Nov. 3, which would give 16-year-olds in the District the right to vote, and the bill is garnering support among residents.

Allen introduced the legislation to the council with the support of D.C. Council members David Grosso (I-At Large) and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1). Allen said he was motivated to draft the bill by a community activist upset by the spike in murders in the city’s neighborhoods. “Michelle Blackwell was bothered by what was going on this summer and she had an idea to get young people engaged,” the council member said. “She suggested that we give 16-year-olds the right to vote. At first I thought that was a bad idea and that young people just weren’t interested in politics at that age.”

However, Allen said he reflected on what Blackwell suggested, studied the issue and decided to move forward with the bill. “Sixteen year olds have many obligations of adults such as getting a driver’s license, having a job and paying taxes, and being liable for crimes that they commit,” he said. “So it makes sense to me that they should be able to have a voice on issues that matter to them.”

If Allen’s bill becomes law, the District will be the first state-level jurisdiction to give the franchise to 16-year-olds. Takoma Park and Hyattsville, municipalities in Maryland, allow 16-year-olds to vote in city elections, with the former becoming the first jurisdiction in the nation to do so in 2013 and the latter earlier this year.

There is also a similar effort in San Francisco to lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

However, Allen’s bill would be different from the neighboring cities. “My bill would allow young people to vote in federal elections, not just local,” he said.

Joshua Lopez, a small business owner and community activist, supports Allen’s legislation. “We need to let our country and the world to know that we in D.C. intend on leading the way in voter participation and extending the vote to people who are 16 and 17 is the way to do it,” he said. “Teenagers are an integral part of D.C. Teenagers are affected by the decisions that council members make when they work on the budget especially in areas such as recreation centers and jobs.”

Anthony Lorenzo Green is chairman of the 8B advisory neighborhood commission and agrees with Lopez. Green repeatedly tells people that Ward 8, according to 2012 city demographic data, has the largest group of under-18 year-olds in the city comprising 30 percent of the ward’s population. “Giving 16-year-olds the right to vote in the city will be a move in the right direction in terms of voter participation,” Green said. “It will make voting more accessible to people.”

Green, the recording secretary for the Ward 8 Democrats, said there is an effort to set up Democratic Clubs in the city’s high schools. “We hope that we can organize high school students around that issue,” he said.

However, there are some residents who don’t support Allen’s legislation. “I don’t think that 16-year-olds should vote,” Constance Woody, a Ward 7 political activist, said. “They are not mature enough and don’t have an interest in politics at that age. It is my opinion that they will vote the way their parents tell them to.”

Woody said she understands that 16-year-olds have adult legal obligations but said that “they are only interested in getting driver’s license at that age.”

Lopez said the immaturity argument isn’t solid. “If teenagers are immature, what better way to give them the opportunity to participate in the political process by voting and keeping them in tune with the issues of the day,” he said.

But, Angel Williams, a 15-year-old student at Eastern Senior High School in Ward 8, disagrees.

In December, she will turn 16 and looks forward to voting in District elections if Allen’s bill goes through. “Sixteen year olds have opinions on issues that are being debated and we are responsible enough to vote,” Williams said. “I don’t need any adult to tell me how to vote because I have my own mindset. As voters, we will choose who we want to represent us.”

District Statehood Rep. Franklin Garcia (D) said that the District would not be alone if it grants the franchise to 16-year-olds. “There are a handful of countries that allow 16-year-olds to vote,” Garcia said. “Nicaragua, Cuba, and Argentina let them vote. A great pool of people to vote makes for a better democracy.”

Allen’s bill was referred on Nov. 3 to the Committee on the Judiciary by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). The bill, in order to become law, must get the approval of the committee, the council, and the mayor, and then it is referred to the U.S. Congress for review.