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“...Old Enough to Vote”: Why Keeping Young People Disenfranchised is Regressive

By Phoebe Weinstein ’22

A youth-led protest (Photo Credit: Truthout)
A youth-led protest (Photo Credit: Truthout)

The voting age was lowered in 1971 in response to the movement “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote” that arose from the Vietnam War draft but carried over from World War II. Our country recognized that sending off our citizens to die for our nation without representing them in the polls was a flawed system. Hopefully, we will recognize once again that as our country and our culture develops, our legislation must as well.

Though the draft affects those eighteen and older, teenagers are deeply immersed in the workings of the United States; there is a massive representation of young people in politics and activism, spanning from human rights issues to climate change to free speech. Our nation’s youth fight battles every day: a job market with unlivable wages, school shootings, repressions of free speech in schools, crushing student debt, and climate change ever-looming on our horizons. Despite participating in the job market and being bound by the law, teenagers have no say in legislation.

The influence young people do have is in protesting and marching which, as we’ve especially seen in recent months, is a powerful tool. Millions of our youth are passionate, political, and informed. We show up to fight for what we believe in, and yet we are pushed from the ballot.

The question of “maturity” is often brought up; however, there are no educational requirements for voting adults. Teenagers are also heavily represented in the workforce and are affected by all the same (if not more) issues as the average voting American. Our generation has mobilized time and time again for what we believe to be just causes, and we wield a powerful voice in activism.

Today’s legislation determines our futures; it is regressive if, for the next century, those represented in voting are determining a tomorrow they will not live to see. Our young people can feel the threat of climate change heavy on their shoulders; we see the ever-present racism; we recognize how, when the authors of another time dictate the guidelines of the future, we will never achieve progress.

Fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds make up about 17% of the United States’ population—to lower the voting age to sixteen would introduce millions of young, passionate voters to our polls. It would diversify political commentary and allow legislation to fit the needs of those who will live out the laws.

Generation Z is the first American generation in which less than 50% are white citizens. Not only is the legislation of our future voted on by those who won’t see that future, but it’s written by a population with demographics vastly different than our own. Refusing to lower the voting age is a desperate attempt to cling to the oppressive grip of our past. The change that is coming is palpable and unavoidable. To delay it is not only painful but dangerous. Our lives, our safety, and our climate are not in our own hands.

There is no wrong way to vote; extending and expanding our democracy are key components of developing and improving upon our country. There is never a promise of all voters leading politically aware and educated lives; the priority should be enabling everyone to have a voice and accurately representing our citizens in government.

How ironic, then, that to enact such legislation we must vote on it; how indicative of the problem that we cannot make the change due to the very disenfranchisement we are fighting to dismantle? The systems in place work how they were built to work—people in power stay in power. The beauty of a democracy is the power of our people to make change, and the voting age held at a stagnant eighteen is a hindrance to our freedom and a threat to our future.

The existence of this article is a testament to my point. I, a young person, am politically engaged enough to write passionately for a political column in a newspaper—a column that other politically engaged young people read. Simply in my expression of opinion, I can prove that I am more than capable to participate in a democracy and that I can wield my voice politically about issues for which I care deeply.

Our young people should not be subjected to war to earn the right to vote. Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds live as developed citizens in this country. Perhaps “Old Enough to work and contribute to the economy, participate in the free market, abide by its laws, fear its attackers, participate in protests, help to support families, and worry for our future, Old Enough to Vote”—though it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well—is the newest “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote.” These struggles and experiences, so poignant in the lives of millions of young people, should be the requirements to vote. I ardently support a movement to lower the voting age to sixteen.


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