Sixteen-Year-Olds In Washington D.C. Might Get To Vote In The 2020 Presidential Election

The measure goes before the D.C. Council later this month, and will need approval from Congress before becoming an official law.

A skyline image of Washington D.C., featuring the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol building.
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The measure goes before the D.C. Council later this month, and will need approval from Congress before becoming an official law.

Could 16- and 17-year-olds vote in the next presidential election? Should they be able to do so? Those are the questions that are set to be put before the Washington D.C. City Council later this month.

A committee discussing the subject approved a resolution that would allow all D.C. residents, ages 16 and older, to vote in elections. It would not limit voting for these enfranchised constituents to local elections either: individuals who are 16 or 17 would be able to vote, just the same as everyone else, in the election for president, according to reporting from ABC News.

Would that be legal? The U.S. Constitution leaves the decision for how to regulate who can vote up to the states. The 26th Amendment does stipulate that states “shall not” deny the right to vote to individuals who are over the age of 18, according to a reading of the document at the Constitution Center online.

That amendment, however, doesn’t restrict the states or the District of Columbia from allowing voters under the age of 18 to vote. It merely puts restrictions on states from denying voters over 18 from being able to do so.

Teenagers seeking to enfranchise themselves and others who are old enough to drive have tried to make a compelling case to allow them suffrage rights, with some pointing out it was an issue of “taxation without representation” issue.

“[Voting] would give me a voice to say how I feel and what policies I agree and disagree with, because I do pay taxes and I drive,” Helisa Cruz, a teenage representative with the group Vote16DC, said, according to reporting from WUSA 9.

“We contribute to society, so it would really give me a voice and I would definitely use it.”

The organization also pointed out that D.C. would not be the first area to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in elections. Several cities across the country currently allow those individuals the right to vote in local elections, although they cannot vote in statewide or federal races yet.

But where they can vote, these teens do vote. According to a study from Vote16DC, 16- and 17-year-olds voted in 2013 and 2015 in Takoma, Maryland, at a rate of 45 percent among their registered voters. That was more than twice the rate of voters of all other ages in those years.

If the D.C. council does agree to move forward with enfranchising younger voters, there will be one more hurdle to pass before they’re able to do so. D.C. has a quirk that doesn’t apply to the states, in that all laws passed by the district must be submitted to Congress, which can vote to deny the jurisdiction’s bill on a simple majority resolution vote. If the president signs onto that resolution, the law will be void, according to the Council of the District of Columbia website.