On Wednesday, NYRA members attended a public hearing before the Washington, D.C. City Council to support the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. If passed, this act would lower the D.C. voting age to 16 for both local and federal elections: something unprecedented in U.S. history.
A total of 73 public witnesses testified in favor of lowering the voting age. Most of them were young residents of D.C. who would be enfranchised by this bill and gave a variety of reasons for wanting to lower the voting age. Many wanted the right to vote in order to be able to influence issues that directly affect them, such as education inequality, the school-to-prison pipeline, sexual assault, or gun violence. Despite these different motivations, all the young people who testified shared a sense of frustration with the state of politics today, and a desire to be able to do more about it. Other witnesses included older allies such as researchers, community organizers, and politicians, (including Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff in the famous student rights free speech case Tinker v. Des Moines.)
NYRA Board members Brian Conner and Alex Koroknay-Palicz also testified. Brian’s speech argued that prohibiting 16-year-olds from voting is a form of ageism, and is therefore no less harmful or illogical than other forms of discrimination. He said,
Fundamentally, the only important fact is that teens are human beings, not property. To deny their right to vote, to deny them control over their lives, to deny them a voice in matters that affect them, is to discriminate against them solely on the basis of their age.
Alex testified shortly thereafter, reminding Washington, D.C. that it now has the opportunity to be a positive historical example, and to lead the country further down the centuries-long path that will one day lead to universal suffrage. He said,
D.C. has the chance to be like Kentucky who first enfranchised non-property holding men, or Wyoming who first extended suffrage to women. Setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow. It may take decades more before all 16-year-olds are able to vote, but it will happen. And D.C. will be remembered in the history books as the first major city to do it.
The passage of this bill would represent leap forward for the cause of lowering the voting age, and a major victory for all youth rights activists. A victory in Washington, D.C. would put #16tovote in a good position to spread to other parts of the country. Not only is Washington, D.C. constantly in the public eye, it is also the place where politicians and representatives from all over the country come to work, many of whom also raise families there. If our country’s most influential politicians can see with their own eyes that 16-year-olds are capable of voting, they may be more receptive to a similar policy in their own state. For this reason, we hope that continued success in D.C. will inspire NYRA supporters to start campaigns to lower the voting age in the rest of the country.
You can watch a few of the testimonies here. The video starts at Brian’s speech at 7:48. Alex’s speech starts at 22:24.