Council to vote on bills lowering voting age to 16, making penalty for fare evasion on Metro a civil fine

On Tuesday, November 13, the DC Council will hold the first of two votes on a bill that would lower the District’s voting age to 16 and another that would decriminalize fare evasion on Metro rail and buses.

The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018

The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 was introduced by Councilmember Charles Allen, along with Councilmembers Bonds, Gray, Grosso, Nadeau, Robert White, and Trayon White. The bill would lower the District’s voting age to 16 for all elections, making the District the first jurisdiction in the nation to lower the voting age for federal elections as well as local.

“At age 16, your legal relationship with the government changes,” Councilmember Allen said. “You can legally work and pay income taxes. You might be raising a family or helping your family make ends meet. You have first-hand experience of the school system. You can drive a car. Ironically, you pay fees for a license plate that reads ‘End Taxation Without Representation."

The bill would allow eligible District residents to register and vote beginning at age 16 in all elections held in the District – including for president (and senator and representative when the District becomes a state). The bill also requires schools to provide students 16 years of age and older with voter registration applications, and it allows 16-year-olds to serve as polling place workers and qualified petition circulators.

Other jurisdictions, including neighboring Takoma Park, Greenbelt, and Hyattsville, Maryland, already allow residents to vote in local races at the age of 16 and have seen young voters turn out to vote at higher rates than older residents. Young people who vote have also been shown to be more likely to make voting a habit and bring their family members with them to the polls.

"In the run-up to the mid-term elections, young people across the country and here in the District are leading a movement that’s creating real change around important issues like gun violence. Their voices should matter,” said Councilmember Allen.

According to U.S. Census data, in 2016 there were 10,455 DC residents ages 16 and 17 – nearly 70 percent of whom are black, 24 percent white, and 6 percent other. Additionally, 13 percent identify their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latinx.

The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 passed 3-0 out of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018

Also up for a first vote is the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018, which was introduced by Councilmember Trayon White – along with Councilmembers Bonds, Cheh, Grosso, McDuffie, Nadeau, Silverman, and Robert White – and moved through Committee by Councilmember Allen. The bill would decriminalize the offense of fare evasion, making it a $50 civil fine. Today, the maximum penalty for not paying the full bus or metro fare is $300 and/or up to 10 days in jail, and most damagingly, a potential lifelong criminal record. 

Data from Metro Transit Police shows a disturbing racial disparity in those subject to fare evasion enforcement. In reviewing more than 20,000 stops, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee found 91 percent of those cited or arrested were black, with 46 percent of those enforcement actions against people under the age of 25. Arrests have been increasing exponentially for this relatively minor offense in the past five years.

“It’s hard to overstate how damaging it is to have a conviction on your record, or even just an arrest, over a $2 fare,” said Councilmember Allen. “We have an obligation as a community to recognize this is a policy causing more harm than good, and there’s a simple solution here. You still have to pay to ride, and Metro Transit Police officers can still stop you if you don’t. We’re just recognizing the punishment, unequally inflicted, doesn’t fit the offense."

The Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018 passed 5-0 out of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

Other Bills Before the Full Council for First Vote

The Council will also take its first vote on the following bills moved out of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety by Councilmember Allen:

  • Bill 22-0020, the “Structured Settlements and Automatic Renewal Protections Act of 2018”;
  • Bill 22-0021, the “Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018”;
  • Bill 22-0472, the “Sexual Blackmail Elimination and Immigrant Protection Amendment Act of 2018”;
  • Bill 22-0628, the “Revised Synthetics Abatement and Full Enforcement Drug Control Amendment Act of 2018”; and
  • Bill 22-0740, the “Electronic Proof of Motor Vehicle Insurance and Registration Amendment Act of 2018”.

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