From left: Dave Chandrasekaran, Greta Jelen, Monae Scott, Charles Allen, Helisa Cruz, Jenny Gonzalez, and Calvin Jackson, a campaign organizer for Vote16DC Credit: Mitch Ryals

At 16 years old, people in D.C. can work and pay taxes, they use the public transportation system, and they can drive a car.

And as Greta Jelen points out, if that car has D.C. plates bearing the phrase “End Taxation Without Representation,” the irony hits twice.

Jelen, a 17-year-old School Without Walls student, along with three other D.C. high schoolers involved with Vote16DC, attended today’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety meeting where councilmembers sent the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 to the full Council for a vote November 13.

“For me, it’s the fact that we’re a big part of the community, but we don’t have a say in what goes on,” says Jenny Gonzalez, a Woodrow Wilson High School student. “Transportation is big issue for me. I catch the bus or the train every day, yet I don’t have a say in how it functions or the policies involved.”

The bill, which passed unanimously, would lower the voting age in D.C. to 16. Other nearby jurisdictions such as Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt, have enacted similar measures, but only allow young people to vote in municipal elections. Similar efforts are underway throughout the country.

But, because of D.C.’s unique position, the bill would enfranchise the approximately 10,600 16- and 17-year-olds in presidential elections—the first jurisdiction in the country to do so.

Ahead of the vote, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, listed several benefits, including a “trickle up” effect that increases voter turnout for adult family members of youth who vote, as well as a chance for young people to develop a lifelong habit of voting.

“I believe the Council will create and engage lifelong voters and strengthen democracy by including a greater diversity of voices in the process,” Allen says. 

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