Theo Shoag knows all of the reasons people think the voting age shouldn’t be lowered to 16. He just doesn’t think any of them are valid. So the 16-year-old Capitol Hill resident says he was “super excited” when he learned that D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced a bill this month that would give 16- and 17-year-olds in the District the right to vote in city and federal elections. If it’s approved, they would become the first Americans of their age who could vote for president in 2016. “I’m really passionate about this, and I’m going to work to make sure this happens,” said Shoag, a junior at Washington Latin Public Charter School who sees political engagement as a responsibility. He serves as the D.C. representative of Youth for National Change, an advocacy organization. “When you vote as a young person, that gets you in the mind-set for voting later in life, and that’s something crucial that this nation needs.”
If the bill to lower the voting age in Washington passes — and that’s a big if, given the probable legislative challenges and congressional scrutiny — the District would be the first major city in the country to extend the full franchise to younger voters. Two small Maryland towns, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, are currently the only municipalities in the country where 16- and 17-year-olds can vote. But there they cast ballots only in city elections. San Francisco is the only other city where a voting-age reduction is being considered.
Lowering the age in Washington, home to 15,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 17, would put a national spotlight on a practice that advocates say increases civic involvement and creates a durable voting habit. And, the bill’s author Allen argues, if 16- and 17-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be charged as adults if they commit crimes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to vote for their representatives?