Should 16-Year-Olds Be Allowed to Vote?

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Young Voters
They pay taxes. They have to abide by the same laws as everyone else. And many are old enough to work and get behind the wheel.

But for teens under 18, the right to vote is still out of reach.

And that’s not fair, say a number of youth rights groups, who for years have pushed to lower America’s voting age to 16. In a nation with notoriously low voter turnout — particularly among 18- to 24-year-olds — allowing more young people to vote, advocates claim, would boost civic participation and give students a voice in local public affairs.

And some local campaigns to lower the voting age in various cities around the country have started to gain traction, as have the broader efforts of national youth civics groups like Generation Citizen and the National Youth Rights Association.


This year, San Francisco supervisors approved Proposition F for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would  lower the city’s voting age for local elections, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for mayor and other city officials, as well as school board and citywide initiatives.  It follows a multi-year organizing effort by Vote16 SF and the San Francisco Youth Commission. If the measure passes, San Francisco would become the first major city in the country to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds.

[UPDATE] Proposition F failed, but a similar measure in Berkeley passed, allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to elect members of the local school district's Board of Directors. Read more.

Nationwide, only two municipalities — the Maryland cities of Hyattsville and Tacoma Park — have passed ordinances lowering their voting ages to 16 for local elections.

Skeptics, however,  argue that too many young people simply lack the life experience and knowledge to make informed decisions in the voting booth.

“I think it’s a dumb idea,” argued Curtis Gans, former director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate at American University. “The voting age was set at 18 because that’s the age at which people could be drafted and die for their country. [Those under 18] don’t have enough life experience or history and don’t know the issues in enough detail.”

Additionally, opponents argue, the nation’s minimum voting age often sets the precedent for other age ceilings. Sexual consent and criminal responsibility age limits, for instance, vary state by state but never exceed 18. If the voting age were lowered to 16, some fear, states could start treating 16-year-olds as adults in matters of consent and criminal prosecution.

What do you think? Should we lower the voting age?

Learn More...

OPINION: No, We Should Not Lower the Voting Age (Forbes)
Read why this author believes more civic responsibility should only come with maturity.

ARTICLE: Sixteen Year-Olds Are Smart. Let Them Vote. (The Washington Monthly)
Read more about how youth advocates in San Francisco helped get Proposition F on this year's ballot.

OPINION: Voting Should Remain a Privilege of Adult Citizens (San Francisco Chronicle) 
This editorial presents arguments against lowering the voting age in San Francisco.

AUDIO: Should 16-Year-Olds Be Allowed to Vote? (KQED Forum) 
Two youth advocates, a constitutional lawyer, and the director of the California Civic Engagement Project discuss similar legislation that has passed in other cities and explore what voting at 16 would mean for elections and politics.