DC’s city council is considering a bill that would lower the voting age in the city, including for local offices and presidential elections. Pretty cool! A council committee held a hearing on the bill today and I offered some public testimony in favor of the legislation. Here’s a copy below. And here’s an earlier essay on this topic.
If you want to follow along, Vote 16 DC is the main coalition pushing for this reform. Yay, democracy! https://www.vote16dc.org/
Public Testimony from Aaron Huertas
BILL 22–0778, THE “YOUTH VOTE AMENDMENT ACT OF 2018”
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
My name is Aaron Huertas and I’ve lived and worked in the District for 15 years. I currently reside in Brookland.
My work has included youth voter registration and mobilization, science advocacy, and assisting local governments, including our own, with implementing their climate plans. Right now I work for Swing Left, a grassroots group helping about 20,000 Washingtonians flip Congressional seats with our progressives neighbors in Virginia and around the country.
I’m here today in my personal capacity as a civics nerd. How big of a civics nerd? When I was a teenager, I pushed for an amendment to our student government constitution to require class officers to send voter registration forms to students when they turned 18. That kind of civics nerd!
And like a lot of you, I was precocious and outspoken as a teenager. And the best way an adult could alienate me in those days was to tell me I’d understand when I was older. Because teenagers already understand plenty. They have values, they have rich inner lives, they often read more than we do and they’re definitely more tech savvy. So I promised myself I would never forget what being 16 felt like and I would never dismiss someone’s value to our society because of their age.
But we are dismissing millions of young people right now. There are more than 16.6 million people aged 14 to 17 in America who are disenfranchised. That’s more people than live in Pennsylvania, our 5th largest state, which gets 18 members of Congress and 20 electoral votes.
And when we disenfranchise young people, we also undervalue their issues: student loan debt, gun violence in our schools, climate change.
Of course, I don’t have to tell this committee about disenfranchisement. We live in the District. I lived in a condo building named after Julius Hobson, who fought for home rule. I’ve stood in Frederick Douglass’s living room. I’ve read his letters in support of abolition, of voting rights for black citizens and his support for the women’s suffrage movement.
So I bear that history in mind when I hear arguments against the youth vote. That teenagers are too irresponsible. Too immature. Too impressionable. Because those are just stereotypes that have kept people from the franchise. And let’s be honest: we all know some people in their 40s and 50s who are irresponsible, immature and impressionable, too! But we’d never argue for disenfranchising them.
Because voting is not a driving test. It isn’t about competence. It’s about who counts in society. I don’t know what the lower limit for voting rights in America should be. But 16 sounds like a great start. After all:
- 17-year olds in our District can sign up for military service.
- 16-year olds can drive a car.
- 14-year olds are permitted to work in the District.
- And District residents as young as 10 years old can work selling newspapers.
So our law says the young men and women in the District can labor. To have their income and their spending taxed. But not to vote! I think we should fix that, because when I see “taxation without representation” on our license plates, I know we mean it.
So please pass this bill and join our neighbors in Takoma Park and Hyattsville who have successfully implemented similar legislation. And please adopt a program to instruct first-time voters on how to exercise their rights.
So thank you to the committee for your time. And if you’re ever looking for a new license plate motto for the District, I have a suggestion: Democracy is pretty cool. We should try it some time.