Should 16 Year-Olds Be Able to Vote?

There is some evidence that earlier civic participation leads to greater participation throughout life, and that younger voters are more likely to participate in their first voting opportunity than older first-time eligible voters.

Youth Civic Engagement

Most 16 year olds still live with their parents or family of origin, while many 18 year olds are in the process of leaving home for work or education. Part of leaving home requires learning to navigate new communities and resources, often without parents or guardians nearby to help them with issues such as finding polling places and registering to vote. They may also be living away from their primary community of residence.

Most countries have 18 as the minimum voting age. However, at least seven countries and a handful of U.S. municipalities allow voting at 16, so there is precedent for this idea in practice.

Case for a Younger Voting Age

Other arguments include that teens as young as 14 can be criminally charged as adults (in rare cases even face capital punishment), so they are considered adult enough to stand trial as an adult but not adult enough to cast a vote for the representatives who make the laws. If youth had a voice in elections, elected officials might have an incentive to represent their young constituents and their issues.

This argument for an even lower voting age is not new and  has been going on for some time. In her 1991 testimony before a Minnesota House subcommittee, 14-year-old Rebecca Tilsen had this to say:

If 16-year-olds are old enough to drink the water polluted by the industries that you regulate, if 16-year-olds are old enough to breathe the air ruined by garbage burners that government built, if 16-year-olds are old enough to walk on the streets made unsafe by terrible drugs and crime policies, if 16-year-olds are old enough to live in poverty in the richest country in the world, if 16-year-olds are old enough to get sick in a country with the worst public health-care programs in the world, and if 16-year-olds are old enough to attend school districts that you underfunded, then 16-year-olds are old enough to play a part in making them better.”
Rebecca Tilson

Organizations

There are several organizations working toward the goal of lowering the voting age to 16, such as The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA). The NYRA (pronounced NYE-ruh) website says, “NYRA is the nation’s premier youth rights organization. NYRA is a youth-led national non-profit dedicated to fighting for the civil rights and liberties of young people. In the grand tradition of past civil rights movements, we seek to write a new chapter and create a world where people are not judged by their birth date, but by their talent, their intelligence, their integrity, and their competence.”

In Minnesota, Jewish Community Action (JCA) is working to expand pre-registration to 16 year-olds. The organization notes that, “voter pre-registration is politically unbiased and boosts young voter turnout for all parties and communities.” While JCA is not calling for expanding the vote to 16 year-olds, pre-registration is a vital step toward increasing youth turnout and allow young people to have a stronger voice in the political process.