Fifty years ago, there was a movement among Americans to ratify the 26th Amendment, which today gives 18 year olds the right to vote. To some, it may come as a surprise to hear that, before 1971, the minimum age required to vote was 21. Now, fifty years later, there is a budding movement to change the voting age again– this time to 16– and give the younger generation a voice in their democracy.
Last March, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-M.A.) introduced an amendment that would lower the federal election age from 18-years-old to 16-years-old. Although her proposal was unsuccessful, with representatives from both the Democratic and Republcian parties voicing opposition, persistent youth-led campaigns across the nation have continued to push for a lowered voting age.
The effort underway to lower the voting age is based on a variety of components, so let's talk about some of the main reasons to lower the voting age to sixteen:
1) Young people vote. In cities with a lowered voting age such as Takoma Park, Maryland, research shows that registered voters under 18 had a turnout rate four times higher than voters over 18. The link between low voting age and increased turnout is also seen in Hyattsville, Maryland, as well as the 2014 Chicago Primary (youthrights.org). Similar trends are also seen in European countries such as Norway, Scotland, and Austria, where younger voters consistently showed higher turnout rates (youthrights.org).
2) Young people are given the responsibilities of adults, and denied the same rights. At 16, you are able to drive, work 44 hours per week in a non-hazardous position, pay income tax and contribute to the economy, and be tried for a crime as an adult (nextuporegon.org). Although the legal definition for adulthood begins at 18, 16 and 17 year olds uphold many of the same responsibilities.
3) There is no wrong way to vote. Although we may occasionally disagree with someone’s point-of-view, a person’s right to vote cannot be denied to them based on subjective factors such as maturity and/or personal beliefs. Although some believe that a 16 year old is too naive, ignorant, biased, or misguided to vote, can’t the same be said for an adult? Why should we hold youth voters to a higher standard? (youthrights.org).
4) Decisions made in democracy today are going to affect the younger generation for decades to come. Many issues discussed in Congress, such as climate change, public education policies, LGBTQ+ rights, and other issues have long-term effects that will primarily impact future generations. When young people are underrepresented in politics, so are their issues (youthrights.org).
The effort to lower the voting age continues to gain support every day. In August 2018, a legislation that would lower the voting age to 16 was again introduced by Representative Grace Meng (D-M.A.) with many U.S. Representatives voicing their support for the resolution, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (youthrights.org).
But how does this impact teens in Oregon? In 2019, it was reported that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she supported a proposal that would lower Oregon’s voting age to 16.
“I think it makes sense to have 16-year-olds vote in this state,” said Gov. Brown (KATU News). “I look forward to that conversation in the building."
Chase Kerman is a junior at Jesuit High School and a member at Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.