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Have you ever wanted to do something but couldn’t? Well, that’s how most 16- and 17-year-olds feel. In 1776, when the United States was formed, only certain people could vote. These people were white men who were over 21 and owned land. Nearly a century later, the 15th amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment eliminated racial barriers, but some states didn’t like this and continued to discriminate against people. In 1920, women nationwide gained the ability to vote due to the 19th amendment. By 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18 because of the 26th amendment (History of Voting in America). For several reasons – maturity, increased voter turnout and developing voting habits, and impact on their future – the voting age should be lowered to 16.
First of all, if sixteen-year-olds can drive and get a job, then they are mature enough to vote. At this age, they can drive and work for the first time, helping them feel more like adults. Most people argue it’s a matter of fairness (FairVote.org). This is because, although some people can’t vote until they’re 18, others have to wait to vote for specific issues. Advocates for lowering the voting age often use this fairness argument as well (FairVote.org). In today’s society, 16-year-olds hold significant legal responsibilities. These responsibilities include driving, working, and helping their families make ends meet (Austermuhle and Goldgeier). According to Austermuhle and Goldgeier, “They pay taxes… And yet, they can’t exercise their voice where it matters most — at the ballot box.” This suggests that 16-year-olds, being responsible enough to help pay taxes, should also be mature enough to vote. In Washington D.C., 16-year-olds are already allowed to pre-register to vote. Additionally, 17-year-olds can cast ballots in elections. D.C. is now on par with three jurisdictions in Maryland, including Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt, all of which allow 16-year-olds to participate in local elections due to Allen’s bill (Austermuhle and Goldgeier).
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As they mature, 16-year-olds can increase voter turnout and develop lifelong voting habits. When people vote for the first time, they are more likely to participate in subsequent elections. Lowering the voting age could encourage younger people to vote. People under 18 years old often have a strong connection with their community, especially if they have lived there for years (Mandel). This connection is important, as it can influence local elections, where they are more aware of the issues at hand. Encouraging young people to start voting early can increase voter turnout as they age (Mandel). They may even influence their parents to vote if they don’t usually do so. In a study conducted by the Kids Voting program, children under 18 years old participated in a mock election. The parents of these children were more likely to vote in the actual election (Mandel). Research indicates that when people reach voting age and participate in an election, they are more likely to vote in future elections. However, voter turnout tends to drop after several years (Dahlgaard). For people who move out of their parents’ homes, they may stop voting for some time. Therefore, if more young people begin to vote at 16 or 17 while still living at home, they are more likely to establish a lifelong voting habit. This habit may also influence their parents to vote regularly (Dahlgaard).
Most importantly, voting gives 16 and 17-year-olds a voice in decisions that will impact their futures. They are affected by political issues just as much as anyone else. They can work, pay taxes, drive, and in most cases, be tried in adult courts. They deserve the right to vote because they deal with issues at a local level (5 Reasons for Lowering the US Voting Age to 16). Allowing 16-year-olds to vote can influence the government to act in their best interest. This would require politicians to listen to the concerns of 16-year-olds (5 Reasons for Lowering the US Voting Age to 16). Teens tend to be more engaged in politics and more concerned about their future, but often feel unheard. Critics argue that teen voters experience no pressure, but this is not the case (McLaughlin). Many 16-year-olds work while attending school. As the future of society, they offer a unique perspective that should be considered (McLaughlin).
On the other hand, some argue that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote. In both state and federal elections, the minimum voting age is 18, as established by the 26th Amendment. This age distinction is already set, and there is no need to change the boundary between childhood and adulthood (Cheng). The voting age was lowered to 18 to align with the minimum age for military drafts. Most people believe it’s unnecessary to continually adjust the voting age (Cheng).
Another reason is 16-year-olds don’t know anything about politics. 16-year-olds are not informed enough and can’t make important decisions for the country. However, some 16-year-olds are informed, but the average 16-year-old is not (Schell-Olsen). Only about 36% of all American adults can name all branches of the government. Most of these adults graduated from high school and knowing this, the argument is that 16-year-olds shouldn’t vote if they are receiving the same education (Schell-Olsen). 16-year-olds can be easily influenced and may vote for something about which they lack understanding. In the current education system, students usually learn more from personal experience than from books and textbooks (Tracinski). Considering this, people who dish out theory will be able to influence 16-year-olds. Consequently, if 16-year-olds are able to vote they will likely support teachers’ unions. Political indoctrination is already problematic, but if schools are able to influence 16-year-olds it could skew the election results (Tracinski). As young people grow older, they may not gain more historical knowledge, but their personal experience will increase. They will witness different politicians come and go, gain more perspective, and have more encounters with salesmen (Tracinski). Thus, with age, they will gain more life experience in areas they wouldn’t have known at the age of 18 (Tracinski).
In conclusion, lowering the voting age might seem like a good idea because sixteen-year-olds are arguably mature enough, it could increase voter turnout and help to develop voting habits, and it has a potential effect on their future. Sixteen-year-olds prove their responsibility the more we give it to them, and they also have to keep up with school and possible work. They should know what’s best for them since they represent the new generation and may have a better understanding of what’s happening in today’s society. However, some people perceive 16-year-olds as being easily influenced and argue against their right to vote. Others think it’s a waste of time to lower the voting age. Despite the negatives associated with letting sixteen-year-olds vote such as the argument around their maturity level and their limited knowledge about politics, they can still learn from their mistakes. Nevertheless, it must be noted that just because they don’t fully understand what they are doing, they still have the option not to vote.
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