Sixteen is a meaningful age. At 16, one can pay taxes, begin driving, and potentially be charged for a crime as an adult. Despite these rights and responsibilities, 16- and 17-year-olds are not granted the right to vote. Early last November, three DC council members introduced a legislation to grant this right. I completely support the fight to lower the voting age, and here is why.
The voting age is currently 18, which is the typical age at which most kids leave for college or a job and immerse themselves in an entirely new community. Being in an unfamiliar environment discourages voting because one must learn the issues that this new community faces as well as their political process. This is reflected in the numbers: 21 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds voted in the 2014 elections, making up only 13 percent of the total ballots cast.
If kids start voting in high school it would actually benefit those surrounding them. Teachers and guardians would have an incentive to familiarize themselves with the political process so they could guide new voters through it, which could increase adult voter turnout. Allowing young people to start voting in a place they are familiar with makes the process easier, and this familiarity would encourage them to vote in the future.
Opponents of the legislation argue that 16-year-olds are not mature or informed enough to vote responsibly. However, the average knowledge of government possessed by 16 and 17-year-olds is roughly the same as that of 18 and 19-year-olds, according to Professor Daniel Hart of Rutgers University. As Hart commented in a New York Times article, “There is a tendency to overestimate how thoughtful and how informed the decisions of other voters are.” Many 16-year-olds are at least as qualified to vote as legal voters of all ages, if not more.
Giving young people voting rights would allow them to have a voice in government. Teenagers are used to encountering adults that dismiss their ideas, which leads to feelings of powerlessness. This feeling can turn youth to outlets where they feel more respected. Twenty-five percent of gang members are between the age of 15 and 17, according to TeenSpace.
If young people had a place in the voting booth, they might think more about the impact their current decisions have on their futures.
Allowing 16-year-olds to vote is not a groundbreaking idea. Argentina, Austria, Nicaragua, and Scotland all grant this right, to name a few. And just a few metro stops and a seven minute walk away, Takoma Park, Maryland lowered the voting age for local elections to 16. It’s time for change at home. As teenagers, we should support council members Charles Allen, David Grosso, and Brianne K. Nadeau in the fight to lower the voting age. The benefits are too important to dismiss.
GRAPHIC BY WILL HAMLIN