As our teenagers return to high school this week, perhaps we ought to consider an important question involving them: Should 16 year olds have the right to vote?
According to an article in last Sunday’s New York Times, Austria recently became the first nation in the European Union to lower the voting age in all elections to 16. And though there are but a handful of other nations in the world that allow 16 year olds the right to vote, recent moves in Britain and Germany indicate that those countries are considering lowering their voting-age requirements. Here in the United States, lawmakers in seven states (including California) have made various vote-at-16 proposals in recent years.
The arguments against lowering the voting age in this country generally have to do with a perception that our nation’s teenagers are insufficiently informed to make decisions that voters are required to make. However, it can easily be argued that voting-age adults are equally misinformed when they go to the polls. Exit polls after the last two general elections indicated a significant number of voters still believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks and that WMD’s still exist there, although both theories have long been refuted.
Lowering our nation’s voting age by two years may not produce a significant increase in younger voter turnout. It has been correctly noted that America’s younger population does not vote as do Americans of older generations. However, the youth of today are soon going to be responsible for the direction of our government and its leadership. It has long been noted that Americans can drive at 16, and enter the military at 17. . . why not allow them to vote at 16? Since the greatest increase in recent political activity and activism has been Internet-based, and the fact that our nation’s teens have literally grown up in the World Wide Web, it does stand to reason that they have both the acumen and the access to the information they will need to make informed decisions as voters.
Decisions the government faces concerning the environment, health insurance and immigration will require the input of all Americans. Therefore, we support lowering the voting age in the United States to 16. The sooner we involve our younger people in the participatory democratic process, perhaps we can begin to make the changes needed at all levels of government. In the meantime, talk to your teens about political issues that concern them, and instill in them the importance of voting.
Your kids are more likely to vote if you vote, by the way.