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Your Turn: Should We Lower the Voting Age to 16?

by Countable | 2.26.18

What's the story?

  • Parkland students organizing against gun violence have many questioning if 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote.

The headlines and subheads:

  • Bloomberg: "Let Teenagers Vote: If they can organize marches, lobby legislators and support candidates, why not?"

  • The Nation: "Lower the Voting Age to 16: Young people who are smart enough and engaged enough to shape the debate about gun violence are smart enough and engaged enough to vote."

  • Today in Politics: "We Shouldn’t Lower the Voting Age — We Should Raise It People Under 25 Shouldn’t Vote

  • The Economist: "Young voters are becoming disillusioned with elections. Catch them early and teach them the value of democracy."

Voting age has been lowered in the past

  • In 1971, during the Vietnam War, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

Some states allow 16-year-olds to vote in certain elections

  • As CNN noted: "Several municipalities in the United States allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections."
  • In 2016, voters in Berkeley, CA, agreed to lower the voting age to 16 for school board elections.

The main argument against lowering the voting age

  • 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t mature enough to participate in the democratic process.

  • Former Hill staffer Austin Frank wrote in Today in Politics: "It’s a maturity thing. Most young voters simply aren’t emotionally stable and mature enough to be entrusted with a presidential election vote, and also lack skin in the game (income, assets, career, etc.)"

The main argument for lowering the voting age

  • Research has shown that "cold cognition" – measured decision-making and consultation with others – “is just as mature as that of adults by 16.”

  • Voting is a habit. As The Economist explained, "those who do not take to it young may never start. That could lead to ever-lower participation rates in decades to come, draining the legitimacy of governments in a vicious spiral in which poor turnout feeds skepticism towards democracy, and vice versa."

Early voting exists in other countries

  • Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua allow voting at 16.

  • Scotland allowed 16-year-olds to vote during its 2014 independence election.

  • After Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote - which younger voters overwhelmingly opposed - business magnate Richard Branson argued for lowering the voting age to 16 as young people are more "interested, motivated, and informed" than ever before because of social media. He added:

"While democracy is based on the popular vote, we should not dismiss the voices and pleas of those that end up on the other side of the verdict – especially in this case, as young people will be most affected by the decision, moving forward."

What do you think?

Should the United States lower the voting age to 16? Keep it at 18? Raise it to 25? No matter your age, hit Take Action and tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: @studentswalkout via Twitter)

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