The District has legalized marijuana. Its city council is poised to give new parents 16 weeks of paid leave. And before lawmakers seal the deal on that progressive plan, a trio of council members on Tuesday introduced another idea that could make waves nationally: letting 16-year-olds vote. It’s not unheard of. Sixteen-year-olds have been allowed to vote in municipal elections for two years in Takoma Park, Md., a liberal suburb of the District. And in San Francisco, lawmakers are eyeing a voter referendum next year to decide on lowering the voting age for local and state elections. But under the proposal in Washington, the nation’s capital would go further than any state or municipality by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in federal elections.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chief author of the measure, contended Tuesday in introducing the legislation that there is nothing in the 26th Amendment that expressly forbids younger Americans from voting. The Constitution, he said, only ensures the right to vote of those who are 18 or older.
(For the record, the 26th Amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”)
“It is constitutional,” Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law at Stanford University, said of the D.C. proposal. “There is no right to vote in the Constitution . . . it doesn’t say you can disenfranchise people who are under 18 . . . the amendment prevents against discrimination, it doesn’t prevent against greater inclusion.”