The Wilson Beacon

Don’t let 16-year-olds vote

Jamie Stewart-Aday

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Last month, students filed into the auditorium to listen to potential student council members convince us as to why they deserved our votes. While speeches centered around changes to school policy, that was not all they included. Most notably, Leo Saunders, who was running for Student Body President, made a joke about his Fortnite wins. He won.

Can Leo be faulted for making a joke that got him support and votes? Not at all. Does it matter that we voted based on entertainment over substance for SGA, a group which was called a “glorified party planning committee” by this newspaper a month ago? No, not really. But would it matter if these same voting habits were used when voting for the most powerful position in the history of the world? Yes, it certainly would. And that is why we can’t lower the voting age to 16.

Obviously, young people would take presidential and local elections more seriously, but the basic premises on which we base our votes would not change. By lowering the voting age, we would be adding millions of people to an already uninformed and lazy electorate (U.S. currently ranks 26 of 32 in voter turnout among developed nations), who are even less informed and less interested.

A common argument made by proponents of a lower voting age is that 16- and 17-year-olds would vote as much as members of any other age group. Advocates like to point to countries with lower voting ages such as Scotland, Austria, and Norway, as well as places within the U.S. such as Takoma Park, MD, to justify this argument. But among further inspection, these places show much different results than what people would lead you to believe.

For example, many love to point out the increased turnout by 16- and 17-year-olds in Takoma Park. But that turnout was only 17 percent—far from a rate we should be striving for.

And in other countries, the trend is even worse than it is in Takoma. While 16- and 17-year-olds can occasionally vote at higher rates than their millennial counterparts, they vote at much lower rates than the electorate as a whole. That’s why award-winning political scientist John Curtice said that studies in Scotland should not be interpreted as advocates for a lower voting age want them to be. “Those who look to the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds in all elections as a way of boosting turnout should, [based on Scottish polling], not set their expectations too high,” said Curtice in an article for the news site What Scotland Thinks.

In the U.S., since November 2016, there has been a huge increase in political activism. Much of this activism has come from young people, and it is easy to see this positive action taken by teens as indicative of a generation ready to vote right now. But while the Emma Gonzalezes of the world are real and are amazing, they are a minority.

Since coming to Wilson, I have been surrounded by 16- and 17-year-olds every day. In my time here, there are only two political sentiments that a majority of these students have cared about. The first is “Trump is bad,” the general feeling which resulted in the November 2016 walkout. The second was a strong feeling in favor of net neutrality, the policy of preventing internet providers from favoriting certain products or websites, which was repealed by the FCC in December of last year.

But even the wave of enthusiasm shown for net neutrality was short-lived and incomplete. In fact, the Senate recently voted to potentially keep net neutrality. The amount I’ve heard about that vote from other students? Zero.

This lack of information would be even more severe in local elections, where candidates rarely make national headlines. And this is an issue to which I fall victim as well. I have gained a reputation as being annoyingly up to date with news, but I will admit that I have no idea who any candidates are for local elections, much less what they stand for.

We also need to remember that, by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, we are allowing all 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. For every teenager who would cast an informed ballot, there are three who wouldn’t.

I am immensely proud to be part of this group of young people pushing our country in the right direction. It is my true belief that we are the best part of this nation and will produce the best voters. When our time comes, I know our country will be in good hands. But that time is not now.

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Don’t let 16-year-olds vote