By Shannon Tyler
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Why lower the voting age to 16? Why stop there? Go to 15, 14, or even 13. This is one argument against a movement that has caught quite a bit of wind in the United States this past year. With American youth standing up to politicians, fighting for what’s important to them, it is no surprise that many are asking for the right to vote. Is 16 too young to vote? Three cities in the United States have already decided 16 years old is not too young and many cities including San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boulder are fighting for it.
The movement began in Takoma Park Maryland then went to Hyattsville Maryland to Greenbelt Maryland which has since inspired the organization Vote16USA to run campaigns across the nation to fight for millions of 16-year-olds to gain the right to vote in city elections. This campaign has only begun in cities, no state has tried to adopt this new expansion of democracy.
Many people agree that adults should be able to vote but the question of who is an adult is a gray line in the United States, as well as many other nations. Many will say it is either the age of 18, when you are legally able to vote and be drafted for war, or the age of 21, when you are legally able drink. The age of adulthood is a blurred line from the age of 16 and onward and depends on personal belief. Once a person turns 16, however, they are legally allowed to drive, to work unlimited hours, and in certain states, will be tried as an adult in the court of law. 16 and 17-year-olds do have a stake in the game, especially in local elections.
Local elections are primarily on the construction of roads along with many other local issues and as drivers, 16 and 17-year-olds are affected by these matters. At the age of 16, you are more likely to go out and buy things at the store which means you are paying sales tax to the city but have no say in where it goes. 16 is also the legal age a person can work unlimited hours and pay income tax; yet, have no say on where that money will go. In states such as Colorado, 16 is the age in which, in the court of law, you are tried as an adult but you have no say in if those laws are constitutional.
Not only do 16 and 17-year-olds have a stake in the game, it will also benefit the voting pool as a whole. The problem with the voting pool today is how uneducated the American people are when it comes to civic education but, that is just the voting pool not including the non-voting Americans. The University of Pennsylvania does a survey every year on Constitution day to see what the American people know about civics. Their findings are quite alarming every year. In 2018 they found that only 32% of American adults were able to correctly name all three branches of government. This might not be the best example of what the people know about modern politics but it does show an issue with the American civic education.
The United States also has a very large problem with citizens not voting and this could be because they have low political efficacy or do not believe in civic duty. This was seen especially with the millennial generation, having the lowest voting turnout rate.
One solution to both voting turnout rates and uneducated voting is lowering the voting age to 16. This is one solution because of the affect it will have on the civics education as well as how people view politics at the age of 16.
In most states, high schoolers are required to take a civics class to graduate. Many people get the class done in their first or second year of high school. This is very ineffective because when high schoolers learn about voting and the government at age 16, the information is not super relevant to them unless they have the desire and initiative to make it relevant to them. If the voting were to be lowered, the relevancy of the information would go way up because instead of voting in two years, those high schoolers would be voting that year or the following year. When subjects are relevant to students lives, information sticks with them much easier and for longer.
With relevancy of the information so high, the need for good and accurate information also goes up. If 16 and 17-year-olds are voting, then school districts will see the importance of civic education and make it the best they possibly can. A lowered voting age will demand for a better and more engaged civic education which will in turn make a larger, more educated voting pool for the future.
Starting voting young, and while people are still in school also will make voting become a habit to add to the voting pool. It will become more of a habit if the voting age were lowered because 16-year-olds are more likely to vote than 18-year-olds if given the chance since they are in a stable environment of their home instead of moving to college or away from home. Research shows that when a person votes at age 18 for the first time, they are more likely to become habitual voters. Because it is easier to vote at the age of 16, it’s more likely there will be more habitual voters if the voting age is lowered.
While educating the American people, making voting a habit, and giving 16 and 17-year-olds more of a voice are convincing points, people are still concerned on if 16 and 17-year-olds are educated enough and have enough maturity to make decisions that will affect a whole community.
Social psychologists say there are two impacts on decision making and that is hot cognition and cold cognition. Hot is more emotional and irrational while cold is rational and thought through. In prime voting conditions, people are exerting cold cognition behaviors when making a decision and 16-year-olds are found to have nearly fully developed cold cognition skills. Philip Zelazo found this out in his studies on hot and cold cognition.
16 and 17-year-olds have the stake in the game, have the civic education, the maturity, and the want to vote, all that is needed is to pass a bill. Three cities in the United States have already lowered the voting age and at least 13 are fighting for it. This is the new wave of democratic expansion in the United States and the youth are behind it.