WHAT IT IS
Voting age is the minimum legal age at which a citizen is allowed to cast a vote on election day. [USA.gov]
This age is stated in a country’s or state's constitution or law. [HISTORY]
Prior to the 26th Amendment, the federal voting age was 21. [HISTORY]
In the U.S., there are some city-wide efforts advocating for lowering the voting age to 16. [PBS NewsHour]
The voting ages vary from 16 to 25 in different countries of the world. [World Atlas]
Over one hundred nations have a voting age of 18. [World Atlas]
- The legal voting age for Nicaragua, Scotland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil, and Austria is 16 years. [World Atlas]
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: Civics denotes action. The 26th Amendment was spurred by the Vietnam War and citizens demanding change. At the time, the voting age was 21-years old with the average age of soldiers was 19-years old. [HISTORY]
- 1965: Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to lower the legal age from 21 to 18. [PBS News Hour]
- President Nixon signed the act into law but issued a statement that he thought the voting age of 18 to be unconstitutional. [HISTORY]
- 1971: The 26th Amendment was ratified. [HISTORY]
This debate also highlights the different power held by the federal government, state government, and local cities. Some states allow cities to set voting age laws, while others have state-wide laws.
SOCIAL: This is an example of civic engagement at work: (1) the Constitution can be amended to reflect present-day issues, (2) citizens demanding change and working to ensure that change is reflected and protected by law.
State elections, state rules
The Supreme Court ruled in case Oregon v. Mitchell that state and local elections were ruled solely by the states.
City efforts to lower the age use this case to support lowering the state election age. [Legal Information Institute]
- Research shows that 16- and 17-year olds have the same level of civic knowledge as 21-year olds. [Vox]
- Research also shows that executive functioning skills at age 15 are almost fully developed. See this chart in this Vox article.
Advocates believe lowering the voting age could revitalize civics education in schools, including student engagement in civics. [Harvard University, Institute of Politics]
Takoma Park, MD is an example of this: once the voting age lowered, 16- and 17-year olds nearly quadrupled the overall turnout for consecutive local elections. [Vote16USA]
A recent national poll found:
- 75% of registered voters do not support granting voting rights to 17-year olds.
- 84% of registered voters do not support granting voting rights to 16-year olds. [The Hill]
Those against lowering the voting age argue kids under the age of 18 aren’t mature enough to participate in elections.
One study found that teens "fail to take choices that represent their interests well." [NCBI]
Mar. 2019: Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) proposed adding the 16-year old voting age to the Democratic supported (and passed) Voting Rights bill.
The proposal failed 126 to 305. [The New York Times]
In Hawaii, Senate Bill 4 proposed a state constitutional amendment that would ask voters if the state’s voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16 for state and local elections. That effort failed. [Honolulu Civil Beat]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- Mar. 2020: Primary elections saw a disappointing turn out from 18-to-29-year-olds. Tufts University found youth turnout in the Super Tuesday states ranged from 5% to 19%. [BBC]
- Apr. 2018: Berkeley, California allows 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections only. [PBS NewsHour]
- Apr. 2018: 3 Maryland cities allow 16-year olds to vote in local elections: Takoma Park, Greenbelt, and Hyattsville. [PBS NewsHour]
- Mar. 2016: Youth-led campaign in San Fransisco was able to get the question of voting age on the ballot. The proposition was voted down but earned more than 172,000 votes to finish with 48% support. [Vote16 USA]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Get involved with Vote16 USA to "extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds on the local level."
Do you feel knowledgeable enough to have the right to vote?
Read the backstory behind Takoma Park's fight to lower the voting age here.
What are civic and social issues you think more young people need to be engaged with? How might you start this civic engagement project? What are the resources you need?
- Is the reported missing quality of choice for voting teens a lack of maturity or a lack of education?
- See a full timeline of voting rights history in the U.S.