The Wilson Beacon

Let 16-year-olds vote

Alik Schier

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By the time you turn 16, you are eligible for lots of meaningful responsibilities. You can drive, work, pay taxes, and choose a college or career. The right to vote is just another responsibility that 16 and 17-year-olds can handle. Wilson saw this firsthand a few weeks ago when the Board of Elections registered and pre-registered close to 250 students in just one lunch period.

By lowering the voting age to 16, DC would be opening up the door to higher civic engagement at a younger age. Studies show that once you vote in your first election, you will continue that pattern for the rest of your life. 16- and 17-year-olds make up one of the most active voting blocs in places where they are allowed to vote. Takoma Park, MD lowered its local voting age to 16 in 2013, and during that election season the percent of 16- and 17-year-olds who voted was four times higher than any other age group. Other countries like Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Scotland, and Germany have also lowered the voting age to 16. Scotland even had 71 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds vote in their 2014 election. In the U.S., during the 2014 midterms, 21.3 percent of millenials (18-29 years old) and even less, 15% of 18 to 20-year-olds voted.

A common pushback we hear from people is that 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote. This gut reaction is misguided. Joshua A. Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, says, “there is no difference between the cognitive brain development of a 16 year old and an 18 year old; they are both capable of the reasoned, deliberate decision-making involved in voting.”

Another common pushback we hear from people, including some Wilson students and staff, is that 16- and 17-year-olds will treat local and federal elections the same way they treat SGA elections. While student government may have some say over small things at Wilson, the big things that happen in DC come from the DC Council, School Board, and Mayor’s office impact our lives in major ways.  The DC Council has say over school attendance policy requirements and funding for schools (remember the broken metal detector?), among many other items which impact our lives directly.

Back in March, The Beacon interviewed students who travel long distances to get to school, with one even commuting 23 miles. The attorney general and the mayor can have say in businesses who want to come to DC, and where they go. More businesses in areas like Ward 7 and 8 could lead to more jobs, which ultimately lead to more money in schools. According to The Washington Post, only one-fourth of DC students go to their zoned neighborhood schools. Given the chance to vote for representatives who make these decisions, we would treat these elections very differently than we would treat an SGA election.

16- and 17-year-olds drive cars with license plates that read “Taxation Without Representation,” yet are still taxed and have no say in voting for representatives, by the choice of their own city. In 2016, the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program helped employ 12,128 14-24-year-olds. These employees paid 1,489,594 dollars in taxes. If you equally distribute that number by age group, 16- and 17-year-olds paid 270,835 dollars in taxes that summer alone.

District politicians make decisions every day that impact our lives, schools, neighborhoods, and families, yet we can’t even vote. Our taxes go into their paychecks, and they spend our tax dollars, yet we can’t even vote. 16- and 17-year-olds make up one the most energetic voting blocs in places like Takoma Park and Scotland, yet we can’t even vote. The time is now to give young people the keys to our future, we must lower the voting age to 16.

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