Expanding Democracy in DC
I believe in expanding democracy. Bringing more people into the democratic process, including through voting, is healthy and serves us all. When we invest in our communities through civic education and engagement, we see the dividends through a more robust democracy.
DC for Democracy recently held a Council Chair candidate debate, which included a lightning round of yes or no questions. Two of those questions related to expanding democracy: (1) lowering the voting age to 16; and (2) granting permanent residents voting rights in local DC elections. I support both, and my opponent does not. Expanding the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds and permanent residents is a valuable investment in our democracy.
- Lowering the Voting Age to 16
The DC Council has considered lowering the voting age to 16 on two occasions. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen most recently introduced the proposal in 2018, noting that 16 year olds can drive, work legally, and pay taxes. After a public hearing, then-Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans proposed tabling the bill — with the strong support of my opponent — which prevented further deliberation and a vote.
We should continually engage, educate, and empower children and young adults, including through expanding the right to vote to include 16 and 17 year olds.
Kids and young adults have shown me time and again that they care about themselves, each other, and the world around them. In 2017, Eric and I organized a kids lobby day, where dozens of kids from all across DC met with Councilmembers to talk about everything from schools to recreation to climate change. I was and remain in awe of their passion and compassion. And we’ve continued to see high levels of engagement at other events we’ve hosted and supported, including an event to engage kids in local politics through games and letter writing, events focused on DC Statehood, and events to engage kids in the local DC budget.
Empowering kids and young adults to weigh in on the many issues affecting their lives — like community safety, education, and climate change — brings them into the democratic process and shows them their voices matter. It allows them to weigh in on issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Expanding the right to vote to include 16 and 17 year olds — who work, volunteer, and have other so-called adult responsibilities — is a chance to grow more adult voters and improve voter turnout. Let’s invest in our youth and show them they matter.
2. Granting Permanent Residents Voting Rights in Local DC Elections
Similar to proposals to lower the voting age to 16, the DC Council has considered on more than one occasion granting permanent residents voting rights in DC elections. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau most recently introduced the proposal in 2021, noting that “[p]eople who have made their permanent homes here should have a hand in who represents them in government. The District of Columbia has long been a place that has welcomed immigrants into our community, and it’s time to allow for their full participation in our institutions.”
We should expand our democracy to include people who have made permanent homes in DC.
DC government decisions impact people who are not yet citizens who have made their permanent homes in DC: everything from affordable housing to education to public health. And permanent residents are often on the frontlines during the pandemic, keeping DC’s local economy running and supporting essential services.
Permanent residents are required to pay taxes, even if they are not citizens. As we argue the ills of “taxation without representation” with regard to DC Statehood, we must recognize that permanent residents suffer the same fate under our current system. Excluding immigrant communities from our democratic processes and limiting the number of people who can vote is a common Republican tactic that is often rooted in racism, and one we should not fall for.
Expanding and improving democracy requires constant attention. We benefit as a society by bringing people into the democratic process. But that also requires continual dedication to engaging with and educating voters. I’m hopeful that as we expand voting rights we will develop more robust efforts to teach, as well as listen and learn, about voting and why it matters.
One advantage of living in DC is we can watch and learn from the communities around us. In Maryland, our neighbors in Takoma Park, Riverdale Park, and Hyattsville have all lowered the voting age to 16 and made voting accessible to permanent residents. Young people in Takoma Park voted at a higher rate than those over 18, which studies suggest may make them more likely to vote in elections for the rest of their lives. And criticisms of both measures have been overblown, with polls showing about three-quarters of voters support retaining the expansions.
Let’s invest in our kids and young adults. Let’s invest in those who’ve chosen to make a permanent home in our fair city. And let’s continually work to strengthen and improve our democracy.