The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to adapt to the evolving moral, cultural, and political values of America – they understood that the politics of 1787 may not apply to future generations. In 1970, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was passed to lower the voting age from twenty-one-years-old to eighteen-years-old. During the Vietnam War, soldiers risked their lives on the battlefield, but many could not advocate their opinions on the issues so intertwined with their condition. The American people realized that failing to extend suffrage to soldiers was a direct violation of the democratic process, so they urged the government to amend the Constitution to reflect American ideals. Currently, our evolving political climate calls – even demands – a lower voting age to grant young adults a say in politics and cultivate a life-long engagement to civics.
Many argue that sixteen-year-olds have not yet fully matured – allowing elections to be determined on the whims of hormonal, undeveloped teenagers is ill-advised. While it is true that a teenager’s prefrontal cortex, the region involved in decision-making, has not reached its full potential, today’s teens are equipped with as much civic knowledge as adults. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science concluded that “on measures of civic knowledge, political skills, political efficacy, and tolerance, sixteen-year-olds, on average, are obtaining scores similar to those of adults.” This finding is not surprising at all. From a very young age, and especially during high school, kids arduously learn about history and government. Although factoids such as the number of representatives in Congress are unlikely to help form their political opinions, the extensive exposure to civics and historical themes would empower them to make sound decisions at the voting booth. While many adults’ understanding of civics dissipates with age – fostering unfounded beliefs based on historical and scientific inaccuracies – teens are constantly trained to make justified opinions throughout their educational journeys.
Dismal voter turnout among college-aged individuals has plagued American elections; despite its historic voter turnout, only 36% of eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds showed up to vote during the 2018 primary. Once they reach the voting age, eighteen-year-olds are in a time of transition: they are either looking for job opportunities or adapting to their college life. The effort of going to a polling place and casting their vote adds another challenge to their lives – which ultimately discourages them from voting. Thus, college-aged students fail to develop the habit of voting, cultivating an apathy that reverberates into their adult lives and diminishes turnout across the board. Lowering the voting age would help fix this issue. Compared to college-aged students, teenagers are comfortably living at home and have fewer responsibilities that could draw them away from the polls. In addition to their orderly lives, high school teachers and parents could help teens overcome the hurdles of registering to vote and finding a polling place. The advantages of voting at a younger age would translate into a higher voter turnout. In Takoma Park, the first town to lower the voting age for local elections, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds voted at twice the rate of adults. Voting at a younger age would generate more interest in the political process that teens would carry into their adult lives, forging a public more engaged in the civics.
The famous slogan of the American Revolution, “no taxation without representation,” emerged when the British parliament failed to extend popular sovereignty to the colonists. During the Vietnam War, the government’s policies endangered the safety and welfare of the soldiers – yet were disenfranchised from voting on these policies. In both cases, the victims did not have the power to influence the policies of the government that were so paramount to their lives – and thus fought for the expansion of democracy. Today, several controversial issues could have detrimental effects on teenagers’ livelihoods: global warming, college tuition, and gun laws have direct implications on their futures. Teenagers have so much more at stake on the issue of global warming, something that could bring destruction and turmoil in the near future, than older generations that are less likely to experience the consequences of climate change. Teenagers who are killed or wounded in a school shooting cannot vote for candidates promoting gun control to deter the shootings in the first place. Teenagers who are applying to colleges take on outrageous loans that can in-debt them for decades, but they are barred from voting on tuition reform.
Due to the innumerable benefits that would come from this policy – from increased voter engagement to an expansion of democracy – we must lower the voting age to 16.
Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins, “American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Jan. 2011
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, "Solid Turnout for 16 and 17 Year Old Voters in Takoma Park, MD," naspa.org (accessed Nov. 1, 2018)