The Case for Lowering the Voting Age

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By Dani McLaughlin

Most Americans remember the anticipation of turning sixteen. It is an exciting age that is hallmarked by the new responsibilities society places on young adults including: driving a car, holding a job, and paying taxes. There is a movement to add another responsibility to that list – casting a ballot.

D.C. considered the “Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018” that would have lowered the voting age to sixteen. The measure is on hold for now, but youth voting is a policy gaining traction nationwide. Jurisdictions across the country should lower the voting age and here’s why:

Lowering the Voting Age Would Increase Voter Turnout

Teens have been shown to vote at above average rates. Takoma Park, Maryland proved this after lowering the voting age for local elections. During the first election that teens were able to vote the overall turnout rate was 11 percent while the teen rate was 44 percent. This level of turnout should be nationwide.

Allowing Teens to Vote Will Form Lifelong Civic Engagement Habits

The United States has consistently low voter turnout rates at approximately 55%. A step towards solving this is creating a habit of civic engagement. If the voting age is lowered it will encourage a culture of civic engagement for young adults. Lowering the voting age also has the ‘trickle up’ effect:  when a teen starts voting then adults in their life will join them. This increase in voter turnout and civic engagement is essential.

Teens are Already Highly Engaged and Deserve to Have a Voice

Young people are true change-makers. After the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, students sparked a national movement. Teens are incredibly engaged and have opinions on policy that effects their lives, yet they have no voice. Critics say that teens have no pressure to vote when, in fact, they do. Teens hold jobs, pay taxes, and attend public schools. These teens are members of society who have unique perspectives that deserve to be heard.

Some of those critical of lowering the voting age argue that teens are not mature enough and teen brains are not fully developed. But science shows teens are capable of mature decisions. There are two decision motivators in the brain: “hot” and “cold” cognition. Emotional decisions are motivated by “hot” cognition while calculated decisions are motivated by “cold” cognition. Research suggests that by sixteen, “cold” cognition skills are near full development. Therefore, teens are mature enough to make calculated choices – like voting.

D.C. is not the only jurisdiction considering youth voting. Hyattsville, Maryland and Greenbelt, Maryland have successfully lowered the voting age to sixteen. Berkeley, California has also given anyone over the age of sixteen the right to vote in school board elections; there are measures under consideration in Vermont, California, and Tennessee . Teens across the country recognize that issues like climate change, education, and healthcare affect their generation directly. It is critical they, too, have a voice in our democracy.

For information on youth voting, visit Vote16USA.

Dani McLaughlin is a student at the University of Utah and a fall communications intern with Campaign Legal Center.