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Should the Voting Age be 16?

The 26th Amendment and the fight to lower the voting age

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  • Voting age is the minimum legal age at which a citizen is allowed to cast a vote on election day. 

  • This age is usually stated in a country’s or state's constitution.

  • In 1971, Congress passed the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution making the national voting age of 18. [Encyclopedia Britannica]

  • Prior to the 26th Amendment, the federal voting age was 21. [HISTORY]

  • 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]
  • In the United States, there are some city-wide efforts advocating for lowering the voting age to 16. [PBS News Hour]

screen shot 2019 10 21 at 7 47 58 pmVote16 USA

Feb. 16, 2019: States in blue to consider lowering the state voting age to 16.



CIVICS: 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]

SOCIAL: This is an example of civic engagement at work: (1) the Constitution can and should be amended to reflect present-day issues, (2) citizens demanding change and working to implement



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.




  • 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 chart in this Vox article.

Civic engagement

  • 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 voting age lowered, 16- and 17-year olds nearly quadrupled the overall turn out for consecutive local elections.

  • Research shows that voting is habitual. [American Psychological Association] Some believe that lowering the voting age could help create long-term voting habits in America.


STAY 18!

Majority rules

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.


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]



Legislative fail

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]


  • 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]
  • 2018: Berkeley, California allows 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections only. [PBS News Hour]
  • 2018: 3 Maryland cities allow 16-year olds to vote in local elections: Takoma Park, Greenbelt, and Hyattsville. [PBS News Hour]
  • 2016: Youth-led campaign in San Fransisco was able to get the question on the ballot. The question was voted down but earned more than 172,000 votes to finish with 48% support. [Vote16 USA]


  • 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.
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This article is aligned with Purple for Democracy,

a movement to support democracy through non-partisan, non-political content. 

Learn more about the Purple movement here


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