Lowering the Voting Age: An Explainer

There are many arguments for lowering the voting age. At 16 and 17, a person can drive a car, hold a job, and pay taxes. In some states, 16- and 17-year-olds can be tried as adults and might be able to marry without parental permission. Yet they are not able to choose the leaders that will determine the laws that these 16 and 17 year olds are subject to. Many would say this goes against the principal of representative democracy that the United States is founded upon.

Additionally, research demonstrates that the most effective way to increase voter turnout in the 18–24 age group is to make voting a habit. But 18 may not be the best age to start that habit — many 18-year-olds are graduating high school, getting a full-time job, going to college or vocational school, joining the military, or moving out of a family home. It’s often a very busy and stressful time in a person’s life. And yet that is also when we ask someone to figure out how to vote, which can be a frustrating, confusing, and intimidating process. There are lots of chances for a person — especially a person trying to feed, clothe, and house themselves, maybe on their own for the first time — to decide that all the hassle of voting is just not worth it at that moment. The first voting experience often gets delayed until things settle down a bit in young people’s lives — we see increased participation of voters age 24–29.

If the opportunity to vote for the first time happened during a time when things were a bit calmer — when youth traditionally have fewer responsibilities and are surrounded by their communities at home and school we could increase the chance they would vote in the next election, and ultimately form lifelong voting habits.

Lowering the voting age isn’t a new idea. Countries around the world, like Germany, Austria, and Scotland, have allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in certain elections for the last decade. Here in the U.S., Takoma Park, Maryland became the first jurisdiction in the country to grant 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections in 2013. Since then, several other jurisdictions have followed Takoma Park’s lead, and many others are considering the same.

On August 26, 2019, the California state Assembly passed a bill lowering the voting age to 17 for all California elections. The bill won’t be enacted until it passes the state Senate and then is approved by 2/3 of California voters, but whatever the outcome, this is an exciting step.

Find out whether your community or state has been talking about lowering the voting age by going to vote16usa.org. Check out their toolkit and start taking action yourself — your voice is important to this conversation!

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