Voting age should be 16

Kris Long, Sports Editor

With the November election looming, issues around voter suppression have taken the spotlight yet again. These debates tend to focus on voter ID laws, limited polling places and times, mail-in voting and gerrymandering, to name a few. These things are arguably more important to the integrity of our democracy, but for the purposes of my audience of teenagers who read their high school newspaper, they’re largely irrelevant. 

This is because high school students under 18 can’t vote. A reality most take for granted, it’s assumed that the natural age to start voting would be the age of majority in one’s country. But why? The evidence suggesting 18 is a particularly wonderful time to start voting is lacking, if not non-existent. 

There is, however, a compelling argument to be made that the voting age should be lowered. 

16-year-olds have the ability and motivation to engage in civics on an adult level. We can write letters to our representatives, understand complex political issues and pen political columns. A study focusing on Austria — the only country to lower the voting age to 16 on a national level — Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice found that 16-year-olds have similar civic knowledge and motivation to participate in elections as adults, and that their participation in Austrian elections was grounded and beneficial. 

It’s not that Austrian youth are uniquely capable either. A study by SagePub found that American 16-year-olds also have the citizenship qualities to vote responsibly given the chance. A number of other studies have yielded similar results. It’s not surprising if you think about it. Most 16- and 17-year-olds in Manhattan High are taking an American history or government class, meaning we are just as informed on these issues than our parents who took these classes 20 years prior. 

Critics will claim that teenagers don’t have the decision-making skills to vote. I’m far from saying we’re all geniuses. As anyone who spends a good portion of time in a high school will tell you, many of us — certainly myself — severely lack common sense. But what we lack is the ability to make split-second decisions, as our prefrontal cortexes aren’t fully developed — especially when influenced by peers. This is not what voting requires. Elections give teenagers plenty of time to consider who they should vote for, and peer pressure to perform civic duty in a flash decision just doesn’t seem likely. Also, adults can’t exactly say they vote with a rational and well-researched opinion. I would cite evidence but I have a word count to stay under, so I submit to you the current occupant of the White House.

Teenagers take on responsibility similar to adults in many respects. We can legally drive, have jobs, pay taxes and be tried as adults. In fact, persons aged 16 are considered adults in the court system in three states, persons aged 17 are considered adults in 10. But 16-year-olds can’t vote on the laws we’re sent to adult prison for breaking. 

Lowering the voting age also has benefits to society as a whole. When you allow more people to vote, more people vote, and there’s evidence these effects continue after voters turn 18. If the voting age is lowered to 16, people are more likely to vote in their first election for a number of reasons. Primarily, because 16 is often a more stable time in one’s life than 18. 18-year-olds have likely just moved out and might not be registered to vote. They have a multitude of new things to tackle in their life and voting could easily sink to the bottom of the priority list. In high school, these obstacles aren’t nearly as prevalent. 

Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth in Young Adulthood | American Political Science Review found that once a voter has started a voting habit, they are more likely to be lifelong voters. If lowering the voting age means more people will vote in their first election, and people voting in their first election increases their chance of being habitual voters, then allowing people to vote at 16 would increase overall voting participation in the future.

Republicans argue that this would sway elections liberally. They’re not wrong. According to  The politics of American generations: How age affects attitudes and voting behavior, young people — though not all young people — tend to vote more liberally. But to me that says more about conservatives not appealing to young people’s valid opinions than young people not being smart enough to “vote correctly.”

That last major opposing argument is that teenagers will just vote like their parents. Yes, many teenagers get their views from their parents. So do many adults. But, as we’ve seen, teenagers have the same skills to vote rationally as adults do. 

In the United States, voting is a right, not a privilege. That means if most 16-year-olds have the basic skills to be able to vote, then we should be able to. We are the future of this country but are virtually powerless to decide it, while our grandparents make decisions about our schools, climate change and welfare programs that will likely never affect them. When will this change?