Lowering the minimum voting age: An alternative perspective

Lowering the minimum voting age: An alternative perspective

UNITED STATES—In recent years, there has been a slow-growing movement among Americans pushing to lower the minimum voting age from 18 to 16. Championed by the likes of congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Ayanna Pressley, this push to reduce the current voting age comes at a time when America’s political atmosphere could not be more frenzied and polarized. Given this sometimes hostile political polarity, perhaps it’s unsurprising that more and more voters are withdrawing themselves from actively participating in politics. According to the U.S. Elections Project, roughly 43% of eligible voters—about one-hundred million Americans—didn’t vote in the 2016 election. To politicians like Pelosi and Pressley, lowering the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds counteracts voter ambivalence by broadening the number of possible voters and offering a new and younger voting demographic a political voice. In a public comment made to “The New York Times,” which endorsed lowering the minimum voting age, Pelosi stated: “because when kids are in school, they’re so interested, they’re so engaged,” arguing that 16 and 17-year-olds are ready and waiting to meaningfully engage in politics.

However, I do believe that there are definitely 16 and 17-year-old Americans who are passionate, educated, and eager to “engage” in politics, I hesitate to think that these same passionate, educated, and eager youth are the majority of American teenagers. In my opinion, politically savvy youth are the minority and, last I checked, legislation typically reflects the desires of the American majority. Furthermore, considering that less than half (46.1%) of voters aged 18 to 29—the youngest category of voters—voted in the 2016 election, I doubt lowering the voting age to include TikTok-obsessed newly-licensed drivers would boost polling attendance very much, according to census.gov.    

Those who defend reducing the voting age reiterate similar rhetoric, asserting that since 16 is the legal age at which America’s youth embrace adult responsibilities like driving and paying taxes, they should have a say in politics. As FairVote, the leading organization for lowering the minimum voting age states on their website: “turning 16 has special significance in our culture. At age 16, citizens can drive, pay taxes, and for the first time work without any restriction on hours.” While the organization is right about the gained abilities of driving a car and working without hourly restrictions, they are, either intentionally or unintentionally, misleading people by implying that 16 is the age at which Americans begin paying taxes. Taxes are taxes; it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you make an income that exceeds given thresholds, you have to file taxes. Babies whose parents have financial investments placed in their names, legally, have to have their taxes filed. It isn’t a matter of age, only income. Thus, just because someone is 16 and can pay taxes, that doesn’t mean that they’re somehow now magically fit to vote. In the end, it isn’t a matter of age per se, but a matter of mental maturity, and statistically speaking, 18-year-olds are closer to that mental maturity than 16-year-olds. 18-year-olds are also much more invested in the real world than their younger counterparts. 18-year-olds are dealing with life, with car loans, student loans, jobs, rent, etc. Most 16-year-olds are still under their parents’ insurance protection, still drive family cars, still live with their parents, and are still fully financially dependent.  

Ultimately, our political system is flawed in much deeper ways than what manifests in the age at which we allow individuals to vote. The fact many of those already equipped with voting power decline to use that power implies an issue that is much greater and more complex. If so many of the younger eligible voters don’t vote, what evidence is there to suggest that those following their example will?

Sources:

(1) http://www.electproject.org/2016g

(2)  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/us/politics/campaign-to-lower-voting-age-to-16-in-local-races-ignites-a-debate.html

(3) https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2017/05/voting_in_america.html

(4) https://www.fairvote.org/why_should_we_lower_the_voting_age_to_16

(5) https://www.thebalancecareers.com/do-minors-have-to-pay-income-tax-2085603

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