House Rejects Effort to Lower Federal Voting Age to 16

House Rejects Effort to Lower Federal Voting Age to 16
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Aug. 24, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The House of Representatives on March 3 voted down a proposal to lower the federal voting age.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-Mass.) amendment to H.R. 1 would have lowered the minimum voting age to 16 from 18.

Before the vote, Pressley on the House floor told colleagues that her proposal “would enfranchise young Americans to help shape and form policies that will set the course for our future, from police violence to immigration reform to climate change.”

But representatives voted 302–125 against the measure, with 93 Democrats joining 209 Republicans in rejecting it.

Four lawmakers, two from each party, didn’t vote.

The amendment (pdf) says that a state “may not refuse to permit an individual to register to vote or vote in an election for Federal office held in the State on the grounds of the individual’s age if the individual will be at least 16 years of age on the date of the election.”

The same proposal was introduced in the previous Congress and was rejected.

Pressley’s effort failed 126–305 in 2019.

At the time, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told colleagues he believed there might be a constitutional issue with the amendment.

He said he was voting against it for that reason. “And also I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t arbitrarily lower the voting age just because right now I believe democrats think they'll gain more votes,” he said. “To be so brash and possibly unconstitutional to decide to try to lower the voting age only for political reasons is something that I don’t think this institution should be doing.”

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) speaks in Washington on Jan. 9, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) speaks in Washington on Jan. 9, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are allowed to vote in local elections in some municipalities. Some states, including Massachusetts, let them pre-register to vote in federal elections.

Pressley, in introducing the amendment originally two years ago, said it would “allow our youth to have a seat at the table of democracy.”

“In 2018, nearly 2 million young people between the ages of 16 and 17 were employed, contributing to the labor force and to their local economy through paying taxes,” she said.

Congress lowered the voting age to 18 from 21 in an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1970. The Supreme Court upheld the legislation in a 5–4 vote. But a constitutional amendment was still required. State legislatures ratified the amendment in 1971.

H.R. 1, which primarily deals with elections, was passed by the House late March 3 in a mostly partisan vote.

Every Republican voted against the bill, along with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

The bill is widely considered unlikely to pass the Senate, where it would need support from 10 Republicans.