Graphic by Liz Rico. Story and graphic edited by Carlos Omar.
To some, the idea of lowering the voting age to anything under 18 seems radical. But lowering the voting age isn’t a new issue.
The 26th amendment says the “right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
With that, this law sets the age at which we can vote. But it’s been 50 years since the voting age was changed from 21 to 18, and it’s once again time to make a change. Nothing stays the same and this shouldn’t either. To think that before 18-year-olds didn’t have that privilege of voting like some do now seems absurd.
Protests to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 had existed since World War II. During the Vietnam War, it was the fact that young men could not vote but yet could at the same age join the military which sparked the debate. The debate being that in drafting not only were men 21 and older being drafted but also 18 and 20. Congress then came under “substantial pressure” to have the voting age change. The 1970 case Oregon v. Mitchell stated that Congress could regulate “the minimum age in federal elections but not at the state and local level.” Meaning, Congress had the power to change the voting age in federal elections but not in local and state elections. This prompted the 26th amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
This information may come across as new or maybe even not mentioned as much. Although youth were the ones who brought up this issue and advocated it, once it was brought to Congress it was up to them to draw the “line for the preference of the voters” in Oregon, where it started. Congress argued that having the age set at 21 was a violation of equal protection, which states people cannot be denied the “protection under the law that is enjoyed by similar persons or groups.”
During this time, the average age of people drafted into the war was 19. The slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to die” became popularly adopted amongst youth. Youth didn’t understand why they were allowed to be drafted into a war at age 18 and yet couldn’t vote and contribute to the politics of the same country they were fighting for.
At age 16, youth are allowed to get a work permit, a driving permit, legally change their names, apply for a passport, make medical decisions, be prosecuted in court or even emancipate and gain independence. They can possibly even have to file taxes. So, why shouldn’t we trust 16-year-olds to vote? They are exposed to adulthood and can start making a life for themselves. Why not let the right to vote be another thing they can do?
Some who are older argue against giving 16-year-olds the right to vote. They may say 16-year-olds are too young and not mature enough to vote, or that they wouldn’t participate anyway.In Austria the voting age is 16 and although turnout levels are low in general, it’s not due to a “lower ability or motivation” within youth. Voting rates among youth show little change as those of older voters.
Additionally, many youth are angered by the government’s actions and getting engaged in “political organizing, social movements, rallies and boycotts.” We see this in national examples like the March for Our Lives and local examples like youth organizing for climate justice and more youth resources.
Ultimately, 16-year-olds are making the transition into adulthood. They are given the responsibilities that many have during ages 18 to 21. In these years, a sense of maturity is forming.
Just like there are people of voting age who never vote despite being able to do so, there are many youth who want to vote and influence change. According to statistics from the Institute of Politics at Harvard, youth interest in politics has increased from 24% to 36%. Proving that voting is gaining more popularity in a younger audience.
Older generations may be shocked about youth being more “politically and socially active,” as youth are looked down on as not having the same capabilities and thoughts as adults do. But with social media and the internet, it’s easier to be more informed and educated, and to utilize platforms to influence change and have our voices be heard, about politics and policies.
As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said, the new generation is “not afraid” to have tough conversations, like taboos, and can speak on it without struggling to do so. Age shouldn’t be a barrier. Everyone deserves to have a voice, a say in their community too.