By Aaron Shuchman ’21
Over 250 years of American history, voting rights have been greatly expanded; suffrage, originally only afforded to landowning white men, is now granted to Americans of all races, religions, national origins, genders, and socio-economic classes. The fight for voting rights has been an arduous process, involving five constitutional amendments and countless pieces of state and federal legislation. Voting is a hallmark of participation in a democracy, and it has taken centuries for America to grant this basic right to all of its citizens. However, despite some valid reasons in support of the proposal, the right to vote should not be extended to those who are 16 years of age or older; instead, it should remain at the current benchmark of all citizens 18 or older.
The arguments in favor of lowering the voting age are compelling but ultimately unconvincing. 16-year-olds are allowed to work with no restrictions on their hours, and they are also able to be taxed on any income that they earn; if you are able to be subject to labor regulations and taxation, then it makes sense that you should be able to have a say in how those issues are governed. 16-year-olds are also able to drive in many states, which, to advocates of the proposal, is proof that 16-year-olds should be able to vote.
There are also political considerations that contribute to the debate over the voting age. The generation of students currently attending school is generally more progressive and left-leaning than current adults, and so it is no surprise that politicians like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA); and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are in favor of lowering the voting age, as it would add millions of Democratic voters to the electorate, possibly changing results in presidential swing states and other elections.
This proposal ultimately should not be enacted. While 16-year-olds are able to drive (in some states), and driving is certainly a task that requires responsibility and maturity, that does not mean that we should automatically extend other rights or responsibilities to 16-year-olds. We shouldn’t allow them to purchase or own firearms, for example, and we shouldn’t lower the draft age to 16. Those are responsibilities and privileges that, like voting, are reserved for adults aged 18 or older.
Being allowed to drive is not a qualifier for the granting of other rights and privileges.
Even though 16-year-olds are able to work unrestricted hours and pay taxes on income, applying that argument to political representation does not have a logical stopping point or limiting principle. Americans of all ages are affected by government policy, whether they are senior citizens worried about Social Security payments or young children just starting kindergarten. Kindergarten students are affected by government policies relating to public education and paid family leave for their parents, yet no one advocates giving them the right to vote. Even babies who are just born are affected by the healthcare system and health insurance, both heavily regulated by the government, so why shouldn’t we give them the right to vote?
Given the government’s enormous presence at every stage of American life, we should not encourage or sanction the expansion of this presence further into the lives of young people.
Finally, although civic engagement in America is certainly on the rise, civic knowledge and engagement is still astonishingly low. Only 36% of American adults could name the three branches of government, according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center Survey, and only 38% could name which party controlled the two houses of Congress. If the percentage of American adults who know these important facts is this low, then why should we grant the right to vote to 16-year-olds who have received even less education than the average American adult? The proposal to lower the voting age has been met with overwhelming opposition from the American public, with 75% of registered voters opposing lowering the voting age to 17 and 84% opposing lowering the voting age to 16. These majorities held even when broken down for party affiliation and age, meaning the majority of Americans of all political leanings and ages have opposed this proposal. As much as I or the next 16-year-old might want to vote, 18-years-old is a logically appropriate benchmark for attaining such an important right.