During the Vietnam War, college aged students were drafted to serve overseas. There was a dilemma, the age bracket could not vote nor have a say over a policy which directly affecting them.
The 26th amendment changed all of that, the bill would grant voting rights to citizens age 18 to 20 and was set to prevent future bills raising the voting age. The amendment; however, never mention restrictions to lowering the voting age.
This month the city council of Takoma Park, Maryland, passed a bill allowing 16 and 17 year olds to participate in its municipal elections.
Surprised? Well, indeed, this is the first initiative nationwide to lower the voting age. Youth can now openly and on paper, voice their political views upon elections.
Youth engagement in local political affairs is important because it enhances their knowledge of civics and allows them to see upon the bills which affect their daily lives.
To some people, sixteen year olds are mature and have the cognitive ability to make rational choices for their candidates. They also argue since this demographic cohort can marry, drive, get a job, own business, and be charged as an adult; they should have the right to perform the most precious civic duty–to vote.
The opposing side–mostly composed of teachers, parents, and older people in general–identify several problems with allowing youth participation in voting. Some see 16 and 17 year olds more susceptible to outside influences, parents, friends, and others, or even political fads. For example, Americans saw the Ron Paul libertarian movement as unrealistic, unsustainable, and full of uninformed, stupefied youth. Many see young voters apathetic and cynical about the voting process, rather than taking advantage of this democratic system. Before the age of 18, most people do not have to stress over health care costs, taxes, mortgages, and legal documents.
Mr Hunt, American history teacher, addressed the legal ramifications of lower the voting age.: “You have to ask, what are the implications of lowering the voting age, and what does it imply? You’re an adult, you are no longer a teenager, you’re no longer in the legal gray area where you have no responsibility and throw it all on your parents.”
The age of majority [adulthood] is 18. Responsibilities such as voting, college education, and full prosecution are granted to citizens.
Despite the privilege, youth participation and voter turnout has stagnated since the passage of the amendment, asides from the uptick in the 2008 election.
The young adult demographic is underrepresented in the polls due to lack of passion. According to US Census Bureau, only 53.6 percent of Americans ages 18-24 are registered to vote and a miniscule 41.2 percent in the cohort voted in the last election. By comparison, 65 percent and 51 of baby boomers (ages 45-64) registered and participated in the last election respectively.
What discourages youth participation?
They are overburdened with the stresses of paying off college debt, facing job insecurity, and other economic and social woes.
Furthermore, many Americans, regardless of age, see the political system as broken from the top federal level all the way to the local governments. Corporate influenced politicians are all too commonplace to these voters.
What needs to be done?
Young people need the grassroots outreach to come out and vote. Adolescents and young adults are the future leaders in government.
A study from Civic Youth states that young people who are registered turn out in higher numbers, along the lines of older people. 84 percent of those registered vote consistently in elections.
Legal age requirements should not be fixed, the definition of “youth”, adult, and “independent from family” is ever changing.
Now, politicians on both sides nationwide are increasingly imposing restrictions to when and where you can vote. Several states have passed voter ID laws requiring all registered voters to carry a photo ID or license at all times, a non issue it seems, it gets worse.
Recently several battleground states, most of which lean conservative, are in the works of passing same day registration and sunday voting restrictions and curfews. These politicians understand the political landscape, that, there is an increasingly growing liberal coalition of young, urban, and diverse voters. As history has shown, a fighting cause against the changing demographic landscape has always failed.
At age 16, childlike traits persist. However, teenagers face many responsibilities and have the will to take matters seriously. We are given the right to work, own a business, drive, open up accounts, co-sign checks, start a family, write and sign documents; and most importantly, register to vote. If adolescents are permitted to register and have received the adequate civics education, then why not allow them to vote?
The decision made by Takoma Park is controversial; however it is a rather progressive move. Sure young people are swayed by the popular opinion of their peers ; but, this does not make the upcoming generation of voters ignorant of the political system. One could argue that a 16 or 17 year old is just as mentally capable and responsible as a 60-year-old Congress member. With the help of our elders and leaders in the community, their civic education will ensure a smooth transition to a more open and engaging democratic process for all American citizens.
Overall, voter registration in the 18-29 demographic is drastically lower compared to older adults. The trend, started in 1972, after the passage of the 26th amendment. The trend, has somewhat reversed since the 2004 election.
Leesville and other Wake County schools are changing the social studies curriculum for the near future. Civic and Economics will likely become a senior core class, rather than a tenth grade course.
Ms. Dow, civics teacher, said, “It’s good because it will get them thinking about the issues and they will be able to vote that year. Once you are 18, you’re starting to go to college, work, join the military, and that is when it is important.”
It’s understandable that older people, in this case, adults look down at adolescents as immature and incapable to execute adult like tasks. Every age group has its share of apathetic, thick headed, and senseless individuals, adolescents are no exception. Even they look label their younger counterparts and think of them as incapable of holding certain responsibilities.
According to Civic Youth (2008 study), 59 percent of young Americans voted in state which offered same day election registration.
All social science teachers at Leesville universally agree lowering the voting age to 16 is too premature.
“I think the voting age should be raised. As they get older and out of school more then they are a little more inform to do so,” said Mrs. Eastman, civics teacher.
Mr. Caggia, civics teacher, said, “I believe they are old enough to become inform; but my fear, it would be a fear, would be they would say ‘I can vote’ and they would just vote without knowing what they are voting on.”
“I think you really change the way politicians have to decide to get out the vote,” he added. “The audience of a 16-year-old age group is different from that of an 18 year old or 30 year old.
“16 year olds do not have essential experiences, life experiences plays a part in how they vote.”
they sometimes don’t understand the complexity of political issues central to elections,” said Mr. Davis, social studies teacher.
“It is an essential right we possess; it should not be the easiest or the first young people acquire.” he concluded.
People are also opposed to a lower voting age because the adolescents granted those rights are not passionate about politics and their government. For many, they simply do not care about the process. For other they, they look to reality as a guide.
“I don’t really care, it doesn’t really matter,” said Rafael Esteller, junior.
“I would definitely go vote if it were lowered but it doesn’t really matter because it’s not going to happen,” said Alejandro Hernandez, junior.
Most students, as it seems, are satisfied with the current voting age requirements.
Asking if he agreed with the Takoma Park movement, Zach Timmons, junior, said, “Nah, cause you don’t really know about politics. If you know the candidate then maybe you can vote for them, otherwise I would wait until 18.”
“I applaud lawmakers placing more responsibility on young people; but, on the other hand, I just don’t feel like it fits with where society is right now,” said Hunt.