Should the Voting Age be Lowered to 16?

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Lowering the Voting Age to 16: Views for and Against

In many areas of the world, once you turn 16-years-old you’re eligible for a special right, a right that allows you to take part in shaping your community and your nation. Countries such as Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua have already lowered the voting age to 16. In 1971, the United States lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, after millions of Americans protested against the Vietnam war and declared that if 18-year-olds were old enough to fight and die for their country, they should be able to vote in federal elections as well. Now there’s a push to make the voting age 16. Is lowering the age beneficial or problematic?

In 1991, 14-year-old Rebecca Tilson delivered a testimony before a Minnesota House Committee, and while it has been 25 years since her speech, her points remain relevant:

“If 16-year-olds are old enough to drink the water polluted by the industries that you regulate, if 16-year-olds are old enough to breathe the air ruined by garbage burners that government built, if 16-year-olds are old enough to walk on the streets made unsafe by terrible drugs and crime policies, if 16-year-olds are old enough to live in poverty in the richest country in the world, if 16-year-olds are old enough to get sick in a country with the worst public health-care programs in the world, and if 16-year-olds are old enough to attend school districts that you underfund, then 16-year-olds are old enough to play a part in making them better.”

In contrast, Forbes contributor David Davenport believes 16 is too young to have a voice in elections as they’re not yet old enough to pay taxes: “If it is a question of maturity, researchers generally agree that the brain is still developing until the mid-20s, with moral reasoning and abstract thought coming later in the cycle than previously thought.”

Voting is a huge responsibility, but one can’t choose a side in the debate without considering points from each side.

Pros

  • At age 16, teens are invested in community issues and are still (presumably) living at home, so naturally they’ll care about local issues that will directly affect their lives and increase the need to vote. For example, in Israel, how to run the military is always a debated issue, and right around the time Israeli’s are first allowed to vote, they’re sent into the army.
  • Changing the age to 16 automatically increases the amount of voters. One challenge is that even though thousands more Israelis would be able to vote, many will still decide not to and voter participation could still be low.  
    • If citizens were allowed to vote beginning at an earlier age, they would get into the habit and would be more likely to stick to it and turn out for future elections.
    • Kids Voting is a program where children participate in a mock vote and accompany their parents to the polls on Election Day. Reports show that even this modest gesture of including youth increased the interest in voting for the whole family. Parents were more likely to discuss politics with their kids and thus an estimated 600,000 adult voters were more likely to vote because of it. Lowering the voting age will strengthen this democracy for all of us.
  • If teenagers vote, they’ll be able to take an active part in making sure legislation supports themselves and other citizens their age. Youth feel alienated from politics and politicians, lowering the voting age will include them in the process. Lowering the voting age will provide them with a direct, constructive, and democratic channel for making their views felt and for giving them a responsible part in the future of the nation.
  • The beliefs and priorities of 16-year-olds are unique to them; we cannot expect former 16-year-olds to have as accurate a perspective as those who are currently that age. If we care at all about the needs and desires of youth, they must be allowed to vote for themselves.

Cons

  • Many critics of lowering the age assert that young teens may be heavily influenced by others as they’re just beginning to figure out who they are and who they want to be
  • Younger voters may not be knowledgeable enough about the issues on the ballot (such as the high cost of living in Israel or national security) to cast their opinion
  • At 16 (in the U.S.), you’re not allowed access to many privileges that come with adulthood such as drinking, or gambling. Many believe 16-year-olds are simply not mature enough to vote
  • The responsibility to vote might put a burden on teens, at an age when they should be mainly concerned with academic achievements

How old do you believe you have to be to vote and why?

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