Is it Time to Lower the Voting Age?

By Amr Ansari (‘22) and Tasawwar Rahman (‘22)

Image Courtesy of Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Zuma Press

For: Lower the Voting Age– Just a Little

By Amr Ansari (‘22)

Image courtesy of Keith Negley and The New York Times.

Seventeen years after president Eisenhower called for the minimum voting age to be 18 in his 1954 state of the union address, the United States added the 26th amendment to the constitution, guaranteeing those 18 and older the right to vote. This change, brought about by the sentiment that many 18 to 21 year olds were drafted into the vietnam war but had no ability to have their voices heard, was a significant one— it brought a new demographic to the table, of whose concerns now had to be considered by the political sphere. In 2019, Rep Annaya Pressley of Massachusetts’ 7th district called for the minimum voting age to be lowered to 16 years of age, allowing 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. Rep Pressley’s cause has merits, and the idea of lowering the voting age should be seriously entertained.

To begin with, many 16 and 17 year olds are highly engaged in multiple topics which better equip them for voting than many Americans. Indeed, Michigan law requires students to attain “1 credit in U.S. History and Geography … 1/2 credit in Economics, and 1/2 credit in Civics/Government.” U.S. history equips students to understand past presidencies, consequential decisions of public servants, and have, with the benefit of retrospect, indicators of successful elected officials, in addition to knowledge of suffrage and past elections. Requiring students to take economics provides at the very least a basic understanding of economic theory, one of the most contentious topics of discussion in the political world. Civics taps into the heart of what the US governmental system is about, allowing students to understand the merits of our democracy and the intricacies of the inner working of both the federal and state governments. While in high school, 16 and 17 year olds, having just been exposed to these subject areas, are not only equally equipped to take on the choice of casting a ballot, but perhaps are better prepared than those who have not been exposed to such academic understanding in years.

Despite this, the question naturally arises of whether 16 and 17 year olds are mature enough to vote in the first place. As one grows, critical thinking and the ability to make decisions for oneself becomes apparent. Although there is no universal age at which all can attest to gaining this ability, there are several ways to set this bar. One such method would be to look at the rights many 16 year olds gain on their birthday. In some states, learner licenses for driving can be issued at age 14, and a full licence can be issued at age 16 or 17. Many in this age bracket hold jobs and pay taxes accordingly. Still, at this age, one is not subject to several burdens placed upon those 18 and older. Nonetheless, this shows that while some rights and the burdens carried with them are not granted to those under 18, some rights and privileges can be. The determination should be made on the basis of the issue in question rather than the overall rights of an individual at that age. 

On that account, I truly believe that those 16 and 17 are equipped with the tools they need to be successful and serious voters. According to Pew, Michigan vote times were on average almost 22 minutes in 2012. Considering other time consuming factors, it seems implausible that one would spend time deliberately voting in either a malicious or frivolous way. A seemingly low number of turnout in 18 and 24 year olds in 2018 at 36% may even underscore this notion— perhaps only those who care most and value the responsibility of casting a vote turn out anyway. Moreover, charisma is undeniably a factor in elections, so to say a 16 or 17 year old would vote simply for the candidate whom they like best does nothing but to expose the reality of our system— our elected officials are brought by the will of the people, regardless of their competence. Further, how we are raised may be the basis for how we vote for many years, so while speculating that young voters would inevitably vote for the candidate choice of their parents has its merits, there is nothing wrong about it. And with the onset of the internet, those willing to chart their own course can easily access policy matters and issues to gain insight through several sources with a variety of perspectives. Many more in the young demographic are becoming more politically active, and while poll working or campaigning can definitely be outlets for this, overall, I believe that allowing the 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote would not only better prepare a new generation to tackle the responsibility that comes with it, it would also grant them to have a true and meaningful to have their voices heard.

Against: No, The Voting Age Is Fine Where It Is.

By Tasawwar Rahman (‘22)

Me after a 19-hour shift working the polls, November 4 (2 AM), 2020. Image courtesy of Tasawwar Rahman.

Note: The author of this article is a 16-year-old high school junior at the International Academy. 

In January 2019, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts introduced an amendment to H.R. 1 that would dramatically alter our electoral custom by granting 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. Despite the buzz the move generated, Representative Pressley’s amendment, which was supported by a majority of the House Democratic caucus, is a fundamentally flawed idea that has neither a cause of action nor a compelling benefit to warrant such a change.

The fact of the matter is that minors do not and should not enjoy the full privileges under the law that comes from attaining the age of majority. They cannot sign a contract, start a business, open a bank account, serve on a jury, or in the military. However, from these restrictions comes benefits such as being tried as a juvenile with readily available expungement, child tax credits, social programs, and overall being freed from the many societal and financial burdens that come with being an adult. Minors, rightfully so, are not adults and therefore should not be treated as such especially when it comes to our most sacred right, the franchise. Not unless one should suggest that the burdens of adulthood be granted in all other spheres as well.

Even so, my principal concern is that 16 and 17-year-olds as a class lack the political socialization and maturity needed to make thoughtful choices about our leaders. More than likely, their primary exposure to politics comes from the views of their parents and peers and while no vote is a wrong vote, this hardly furthers the purpose of enfranchisement which is to give voters a voice, not their parents. Additionally, 16 and 17-year-olds have not yet had to deal with government, so a vote may not carry the gravity it deserves. If student body elections serve as any indication of the behaviors of high schoolers, a vote may end up being a popularity contest or even worse, a joke. Such as with Kanye West’s unsuccessful bid for President (the precinct I worked had several write-ins for him). While I have no doubt that some if not many high schoolers will be well-informed voters, what middle ground is there? A political ‘literacy test’ provokes a jim crow connotation that is best avoided and it is impractical to maintain two sets of voter rolls for those eligible for state but not federal elections (or vice versa). And finally, why should we enfranchise 16 and 17-year-olds when 18-year-olds rarely exercise their right to vote (only 30% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2018 midterms). While in fairness, many of the criticisms of 16-year-olds voting also apply to 18-year-olds. However, one can hardly argue that the solution to disengaged or uninformed voters is even more disengaged or uninformed voters.

Furthermore, proponents will argue that young people will be affected by today’s policies (or inaction) and thus should have a voice. I wholeheartedly agree while at the same time recognizing that politics is so much more than just voting and it happens 365 days a year. Today, there are so many opportunities for young people to get involved in the political process, whether that be volunteering or donating to a campaign, calling a representative, writing for your school paper, or even working the polls. Personally, I believe that my passion for the issues coupled with not yet having the right to vote actually encouraged my civic engagement because it forced me to go beyond the ballot box and do the hard work that makes or breaks any campaign. Over the past two years that I’ve engaged in our political process, I have volunteered for 3 campaigns, 2 policy groups, and worked the polls twice. While I may not yet have the right to vote, I think what I do is just as worthwhile and I eagerly await the day I’ll be able to cast my first ballot.

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