The Vietnam War was slowly coming out of its worst period in 1971, when teenagers across the country began to demand the right to vote. After all, 18-year-olds were eligible to be drafted, but yet they couldn’t vote for their commander in chief. These demands were met with the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.
Nearly 50 years later, a new suffrage movement has come into place. Some believe that 16-year-olds should gain the right to vote, including prominent politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Proponents argue that giving 16-year-olds the right to vote not only makes complete sense, but is critical to their rights as Americans. National laws affect them on a daily basis, especially when it comes to topics on education and health care. More importantly, they can be tried as adults in court, can drive, and their income is taxed, leading to the mantra of “taxation without representation” coming back into style 243 years later.
Some cities across the country have begun to test the idea on the local level, including San Francisco. However, it’s difficult to see how this could translate to a national level. Voter turnout is worst among the 18-25 age bracket already, and adding more young voters could probably do little to change that.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was 35% among 18-25 year olds, compared to 59.5% from 45-64 year olds and 66% from voters over 65.
As seen in the March for Life and the March for Science protests in 2018, many teens are civically engaged. Such actions are commendable, showing the youth of America standing up for a cause they believe in. However, the significant downside of lowering the voting age is evident.
It should also be noted that, while 16-year-olds do have to pay income taxes if they work, they still lack the ability to pay property taxes, join the military or drop out of school without parental approval. They also can’t apply for a credit card, be held responsible for their own debts or participate in jury duty.
Additionally, only five states in the U.S. require high school students to take a personal finance class, according to a study by Champlain College. Odds are, the teenagers of today will be paying income tax for the next 50 years, assuming they retire at 65. Similarly, not all states require a class about government to graduate high school.
Adults are more likely to have a full-time job, likely have degrees and are directly affected by most government policies. The age of 18 is also a general age for adulthood across many other formats, and lowering the voting age would have rippling effects across the country.
There’s a larger issue behind the debate over lowering the voting age, and it’s how we fail to properly treat teens in our country. If anything showed us this, it was the cause of the last age decrease: Vietnam. Rather than question the morality of drafting teenagers to die for their country without representation, we simply gave them the right to vote.
Today, we face another question of morals. We should listen to the thoughts of teens with the assumption that they will be future voters. We should, at the same time, educate and encourage future participation in the voting system.
Simply lowering the voting age will not solve the never-ending stream of school shootings. Nor will it save the environment, reform health care or normalize mental health. It will merely give the politicians that approve it a peaceful state of mind and a right to ignore what many teens are truly fighting for, just as they did in 1971.
There doesn’t seem to be any harm in giving teens an extra two years of experience with government before allowing them to decide what should be done in the country. There will be several opportunities for the average American 16-year-old to formulate their own opinions, rather than allowing them to vote despite having less responsibility than older voters.