By Sophie Gonsier, age 13
The 26th amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” Today many young adults agree that the age limit for voting should be lowered from 18 to 16 or even 15. Advocates for lowering the voting age argue that young people under the age of 18 play an active part in society; they have jobs, pay taxes, and have adult responsibilities and therefore deserve the same rights as adults.
Whereas young people in past generations were politically influenced by their parents and family members, in the current era of information technology, and with rapid access to news and alternative viewpoints through social media and other online sources, young adults are influenced so much by these resources that they may be better educated on current politics than the average adult in America.
One of the biggest challenges to engaging young adults in civic life for the long run is voter apathy. Lowering the voting age, an idea that has a historic precedent, can help make voting a habit for the younger generation — a generation that have become increasingly apathetic about voting and participation in government.
The voting age has only been lowered once before, in the 1970s, from 21 to 18. The discussion began during World War II and only intensified during the Vietnam War afterwards. The argument for the change was that many were forced to fight for their country and that they should have a vote in whether or not they actually want to go to war. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was a common slogan during the movement.
Ironically, decades later, young adults feel increasingly discouraged from participating in civic life and voter turnout has been low in the United States, which is not a good prognosis for a healthy democracy. Lowering the voting age could help address this the dilemma.
Many say that the voting age should not be lowered because kids under the age 18 don’t have a sophisticated understanding of how our government works. The opposing argument to this is that they do know how the government works, through classes like Civics, U.S. history, Model UN, and clubs focusing on civil rights and social justice. Some may say that young adults are only influenced by their parents and their opinions are only based on their parents opinions. By the age of 12 many teens have already started rebelling against their parents in their choice of friends, music, activities and interests. Teens have phones and computers where they can look at different online accounts and form their own opinions and what they think the country should look like.
For example, following the recent shooting at the high school in Florida, students are now leading the charge in drawing national attention to the need for gun control laws that adults have been unable to change.
The organization Rock the Vote states “Numerous academic studies and electoral analyses show that voting is habit-forming,” suggesting that voting becomes a habit after the first time you vote and voters are more likely to vote a second, third, fourth time and so on. In an American National Election Panel (ANES) study, from 2000, researchers found that a person who had voted in the previous election was 33 to 36.4 percent more likely to vote in the next presidential election. This is the same for young voters as well; since 2004 they have increased their numbers from past elections. Those voters will have a huge impact on elections in the next year.
Many young adults have already started youth campaigns in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Texas and across the country to lower the voting age. More than twenty towns and cities allow voters under the age of 18 to vote in local elections. Many local government have established places, roles and offices for youth representatives. Voting helps young voters to better understand how the government works.
The world is changing everyday, and with rapidly evolving information and technology, young people have more opportunity than ever to help shape the future they want through active participation in elections. In order for democracy to work, it has to adapt, respond, and accommodate changing values and interests of the citizens who are the foundation of our democracy, and this includes changing election laws when a clear need has been established.
Voting rights are and will always be an ongoing topic of debate. Americans should expect voting rights to be challenged and expanded when perceived as unjustly discriminating based on race, gender or age.
Sophie Gonsier is an eighth grader at Adele Harrison Middle School, and wrote this piece at the school’s Writing Center.