By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, jwright@afro.com

D.C. Council member Charles Allen was inspired by the March for Our Lives rally on March 24 in the District of Columbia and is thoroughly convinced that young people can be politically engaged.

As a result, Allen, a Democrat representing Ward 6, re-introduced the “Youth Amendment Act of 2018” at the D.C. Council legislative meeting April 10. The legislation would allow District residents at least 16-years-old to vote in city elections. Allen said it is time for 16-year-olds to have the rights of full citizenship if they have the obligations.

Charles Allen, who represents Ward 6 on the D.C. Council, wants the voting age to be 16. (Courtesy Photo)

“At the age of 16, our society already gives young people greater legal responsibility,” 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. Ironically, they pay fees to get a license plate that reads ‘Taxation Without Representation’. I think it is time to change that.”

Allen originally introduced the bill on Nov. 3, 2015 and it was referred to the then Committee on the Judiciary, but no further action was taken.

Allen’s bill would allow a District resident to register and vote starting on their 16th birthday in elections such as U.S. president, the delegate to the U.S. Congress, D.C. mayor, D.C. council chairman and council members, D.C. attorney general, the statehood senatorial and congressional representatives, the D.C. State Board of Education members and advisory neighborhood commissioners.

Allen said African Americans comprise 62 percent of the teenagers in the District, with 21 percent White and the rest Latino, Asian, and Native American.

Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Mary Cuthbert told the AFRO that giving 16-years-olds the right to vote isn’t a good idea. “They don’t understand what is going on in the world and even in D.C. They are not even required to take civics in high school, so how can they vote for anything,” Cuthbert said.

The District’s public schools don’t require taking a civics course to graduate even though students must pass a United States Government course to get a diploma. Civics focuses on the obligations of citizenship while government classes teach how the public sector operates.

Allen respectfully disagrees with Cuthbert. “Some people will say young people aren’t mature or educated enough,” he said. “But I beg to differ. Just a few weeks ago, young District residents organized a citywide school walkout and spoke passionately at the Rally for D.C. Lives calling for an end to gun violence.

“In hearings on our school system, students testified with well-informed opinions. And yet, they can’t exercise their voice where it matters most – at the ballot box.”

In Maryland, municipalities such as Takoma Park, Greenbelt, and Hyattsville allow 16-year-olds to vote in elections. Allen stressed that 16-year-olds should have a say on how they are governed. “The laws and budgets we pass have huge effects on these young people,” he said. “We have a citywide curfew for anyone under the age of 17. We have laws with penalties that can dictate their future.”

Allen’s bill is supported by D.C. Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), David Grosso (I-At Large), and Robert White (D-At Large), and with that, it has the majority of the council. Presently Allen is the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and it is highly likely a hearing will take place on his legislation before the end of the council period, which is Dec. 31.