By Matthew Bornhorst
Nearly 50 years ago President Nixon signed into law Amendment XXVI lowering the voting age to 18. This allowed millions of young people eligible to be drafted for war to also have the right to vote.
Now, more than ever, representation is imperative. With voter turnout declining, an aging voting age population, and vastly under-representative government, now is the time to think about who exactly gets to vote.
Looking back to 1971, when the 26th amendment was passed, you see a highly tumultuous political climate. With the Vietnam War raging and popular support for President Nixon waning, many people saw themselves unrepresented. People could go off to war and die for their country before they got to vote, they argued.
And it worked. Nixon caved to the pressure and allowed millions of new young people to vote. That decision, however, was not based off of a rational age that makes a person suitable to vote. So it is worth taking a look at what age one is suitable to vote, and, potentially, lowering the federal minimum.
The fact is young people already are barely getting out to vote. With an aging pool of political candidates, young people feel as though there isn’t anyone who truly represents them, and with a general lack of knowledge of the civic sphere, there isn’t any practical knowledge of how to change that fact. This could be remedied by lowering the voting age to 16.
With young people getting more connected and involved in politics at younger ages with the internet, they feel as connected and informed as many adults, and with civics classes in high school it is very easy to educate them on ballot issues. And saying that teens are too dumb to vote is giving way too much credit to adults anyway. When only 39% of adults can name the three branches of government — the pillar of American democracy — it isn’t saying much about their knowledge either.
This American Democracy where voting is the ultimate tool to affect change. Critics argue that young people can involved with political campaigns and get their voice out that way, however, this is like a lion without teeth. It can roar as loud as thunder, but without the means to kill, it is but a hollow noise.
This is on top of the fact that at 16 many young men and women are joining the workforce, and for a country that, supposedly, dislikes taxation without representation, we are treading into murky waters, and young people are starting to push for their right to vote.
Campaigns like Vote16 are pushing to lower the voting age to 16 in local elections in the hopes that the positive effects that it has on local elections will be amplified to make it a national issue.
That campaign and others also point to countries like Austria and Norway, whose voting ages are 16, where voter turnout noticeably increases for young voters. This is because at 16 men and women are embroiled in their educational careers and are extremely moldeable, so habits formed in high school and secondary education will carry on into the future.
So it’s time to rid ourselves of the view of teenagers as lazy, uneducated, immature kids who don’t understand the consequences of their actions, and instead view them as a part of the lazy, uneducated, debatably mature populous who has to bear the brunt of the consequences those who can vote impose upon them.