Same D.C. City Council Members Who Want to Lower the Voting Age to 16 Also Voted to Raise City's Smoking Age to 21

We'll trust teenagers with decisions about how to run the country, but not how to run their own lives.


Joe Sohm/

The Washington, D.C., City Council is rapidly advancing a measure that would lower the voting age to 16. On Thursday, the council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the Youth Vote Amendment Act, which would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in all elections, from local races to the presidency.

This would be a national first. A number of D.C. suburbs in Maryland let 16- and 17-year-olds vote, but ony in local races. In Berkeley, California, this same age bracket is allowed to vote in school board elections.

The sponsor of the measure, Councilmember Charles Allen, praised Thursday's outcome, arguing that 16-year-olds are already making weighty decisions and thus can be trusted with participating in elections.

"They're caretakers of parents or siblings. They're helping their family by working a job (or two). Some may be parents themselves. And they're engaged in the issues of our city just like everyone else," he says on Twitter. "They deserve to have their voice heard."

Allen's not wrong that 16- and 17-year-olds are trusted with a number of decisions associated with adulthood, from holding down a job to getting a driver's license to—in D.C., though not in every state—sexual consent. It's odd, therefore, that we restrict their right to vote.

It's also odd that Allen would be the one making this argument, given his past support for other laws that restrict these same young people from making decisions about their own lives.

Back in 2016, when a proposal was floated to increase D.C.'s smoking age to 21, Allen voted in favor of taking this choice away from young people. He was joined by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and Mary Cheh, both of whom support his measure to lower the voting age.

It's remarkably inconsistent to advocate that 16-year-olds are responsible enough to do things like raise a child and participate in the democratic process, yet too irresponsible to decide whether they want to smoke a cigarette.

Yet this increasingly is our lot. Our marginal impact on choosing the leaders and laws that govern us is treated as sacrosanct, while the decisions we might make about our lives, and only our lives, are subject to an endless degree of regulations, restrictions, or prohibitions.

By all means, we should let 16-year-olds vote. We should let them do a lot of other things, too.