Councilmember Jack Evans Credit: Darrow Montgomery

D.C. lawmakers punted a bill that would have given 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote. The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 appeared to have wide support on the Council until Ward 2 Coucilmember Jack Evans motioned to postpone a vote on the bill indefinitely—effectively killing its chances of passing before the year-end deadline.

Evans cited “significant unreadiness,” and councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Anita Bonds (At-Large), Trayon White (Ward 8), andChairman Phil Mendelson all joined him. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser has previously expressed her support of giving 16-year-olds the right to vote.

Councilmembers Bonds and White are both listed as co-introducers of the bill. And just hours before the deciding vote, White had voted against Evans’ previous attempt to table the bill during another vote in the Committee of the Whole meeting. 

White represents Ward 8, an area that historically has some of the lowest voter turnout in the District.

The bill would have given 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in all D.C. elections, including casting ballots for President of the United States. D.C. would have been the first jurisdiction in the country to lower the voting age for federal elections. Nearby cities such as Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt have lowered the voting age for local elections, and similar efforts are underway throughout the country.

An estimated 10,400 16- and 17-year-olds live in D.C.: 70 percent are black, 21 percent are white, and 12 percent are Latinx, according to The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety’s report on the bill. They would have been eligible to vote in the 2020 election had the bill moved forward. 

Before lawmakers extinguished the measure, Councilmember Charles Allen gave an impassioned speech about young voices “leading a national conversation [on gun violence] that adults had not done.”

“I abhor taxation without representation,” Allen said. “I get to spend their tax dollars, and these young people are able to work, pay taxes, and in many cases are raising their own families or helping to raise their families. I think we have a moment in front of us that we can recognize and respect the power these young voices have.”

Critics of the bill have argued that 16-year-olds are too immature to vote, are not politically engaged enough, and will vote in line with their parents. But in tabling the bill, neither Evans, nor the six lawmakers who voted with him, were required to articulate the reason for their votes.

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds who attended a previous committee hearing in support of the bill told City Paper about their concerns over education, transportation, and gun violence.

“We all participate in protests and calling our councilmembers, but there’s really no equivalent to having a vote,” said 16-year-old Helisa Cruz after the Judiciary Committee hearing in early November.